Do Neurotics Understand Love Better?

Do Neurotics Understand Love Better?

Why you should care

Because despite their reputation for dwelling on the negative, people with neurotic personalities actually know about love.

Think of a child snuggling up to you on the couch, or a dopey-eyed pup greeting you at the door, or a moment of compassion from a friend when you’re feeling blue. Feel a little mushy? That’s because these are moments that make people feel most loved, according to a study published in November in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

And it turns out that people associated more with negativity and erratic emotions know what gives us those warm fuzzies:

People with neurotic personalities understand what makes others feel loved better than well-adjusted people.

The study, which was authored by Penn State postdoctoral research scholar Saeideh Heshmati and assistant professor Zita Oravecz, asked 495 adult Americans representative of the U.S. population to identify whether 60 scenarios in both romantic and nonromantic contexts made them feel loved.

If they do have more knowledge, then why aren’t they more successful in their relationships?

Saeideh Heshmati, postdoctoral research scholar

The study found that people feel the most loved in everyday situations, such as the ones described above, and that people with neurotic personality traits — the tendency to experience mainly negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or depression — recognized these instances more often than the average participant.

Heshmati, surprised by the results, wondered how people who typically have problems in their relationships could have such heightened insights into the indicators of love: “If they do have more knowledge, then why aren’t they more successful in their relationships?”

Part of the answer may lie in how people with neuroticism view the world. Because they are used to filtering life for its negative aspects, they may be more attentive to and ruminate more on loving actions, making those scenarios easier to identify, speculates Christine Finn, a psychology researcher at the University of Jena, in Germany, who has studied how romantic relationships affect people with neurotic personalities but was not part of the Penn State study.

Even if some neurotic people have a difficult time sustaining romantic relationships, Finn has found in her research that people with these personalities tend to become more emotionally stable and feel less angry, anxious and depressive when they have a partner. “A relationship changes how those people process information from the environment,” Finn says. “Maybe if they recognize those displays from others around them … they can also learn to scan the environment for positive things.” Like a snuggle on the couch or a puppy at the door.

Because a major component of well-being is the feeling of love, actively identifying its indicators on an everyday basis has the potential to help people become happier, Heshmati says. “Just asking that simple question does trigger people to look for these kinds of scenarios and realize that there are things around them that could make them feel loved that they’re not aware of.”

So, if you want to find more love in your life, ask someone who’s neurotic where to look.


Numbers and factoids — fodder for your next cocktail party.