Dispositional negativity: An integrative psychological and neurobiological perspective

Alexander J. Shackman, Do P.M. Tromp, Melissa D. Stockbridge, Claire M. Kaplan, Rachael M. Tillman, Andrew S. Fox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dispositional negativity-the propensity to experience and express more frequent, intense, or enduring negative affect-is a fundamental dimension of childhood temperament and adult personality. Elevated levels of dispositional negativity can have profound consequences for health, wealth, and happiness, drawing the attention of clinicians, researchers, and policymakers. Here, we highlight recent advances in our understanding of the psychological and neurobiological processes linking stable individual differences in dispositional negativity to momentary emotional states. Self-report data suggest that 3 key pathways-increased stressor reactivity, tonic increases in negative affect, and increased stressor exposure-explain most of the heightened negative affect that characterizes individuals with a more negative disposition. Of these 3 pathways, tonically elevated, indiscriminate negative affect appears to be most central to daily life and most relevant to the development of psychopathology. New behavioral and biological data provide insights into the neural systems underlying these 3 pathways and motivate the hypothesis that seemingly "tonic" increases in negative affect may actually reflect increased reactivity to stressors that are remote, uncertain, or diffuse. Research focused on humans, monkeys, and rodents suggests that this indiscriminate negative affect reflects trait-like variation in the activity and connectivity of several key brain regions, including the central extended amygdala and parts of the prefrontal cortex. Collectively, these observations provide an integrative psychobiological framework for understanding the dynamic cascade of processes that bind emotional traits to emotional states and, ultimately, to emotional disorders and other kinds of adverse outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1275-1314
Number of pages40
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective neuroscience
  • Central extended amygdala
  • Fear and anxiety
  • FMRI
  • Neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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