Personality self-reports are concurrently reliable and valid during acute depressive episodes

Paul T. Costa, R. Michael Bagby, Jeffrey H. Herbst, Robert R. McCrae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: It is alleged that depression distorts the assessment of general personality traits. To test that hypothesis, we examined scores on the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) administered to acutely depressed patients at baseline and 14 to 26 weeks after treatment with antidepressant medication. Method: Two hundred and fifty patients completed the NEO-PI-R at baseline, 109 patients after 14 to 26 weeks of antidepressant pharmacotherapy. 48 patients (49.5%) were identified as responders while 49 (50.5%) were identified as non-responders. The remaining 12 patients were excluded because they met HRSD response criteria but not the SCID-I MDD criteria at treatment completion. Results: At baseline, NEO-PI-R scales showed high internal consistency and replicated the normative factor structure, suggesting that psychometric properties were preserved. Among non-responders, retest correlations were uniformly high (rs = .50 to .88) and mean levels showed little change, providing evidence for the consistency of personality self-reports during an acute depressive episode. NEO-PI-R scales showed construct validity in the concurrent prediction of a number of clinical criteria. Effective treatment had significant effects on the mean levels of neuroticism, which decreased, and extraversion, openness, and conscientiousness, which increased. Limitations: The participants were from a clinical database and were not randomly assigned for the treatment. Conclusions: The results suggest that the effect of acute depression is to amplify somewhat the personality profile of people prone to depression. Rather than regard these depression-caused changes in assessed personality trait levels as a distortion, we interpret them as accurate reflections of the current condition of the individual. Personality traits have biological bases, and when they are changed (by disease or therapeutic interventions) trait levels change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-55
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Depression
  • Personality assessment
  • State artifact
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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