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Page 1

Work, personality and psychological distress:

direct and moderating effects of the Big Five personality traits


Claudia Di Sanza

Relations industrielles

Faculté des Arts et des Sciences

Mémoire présenté à la Faculté des études supérieures

en vue de l’obtention du grade de Maîtrise

en Relations Industrielles

Décembre, 2010

Claudia Di Sanza, 2010

Page 2


Université de Montréal

Faculté des études supérieures

Ce mémoire intitulé :

Work, personality and psychological distress:

direct and moderating effects of the Big Five personality traits

présenté par :

Claudia Di Sanza

a été évalué par un jury composé des personnes suivantes :

Émilie Genin

Alain Marchand

Directeur de recherche

Pierre Durand
Membre du jury

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Personality variables

Moving to the personality traits, our model suggests that a direct relationship

exists between extraversion and psychological distress. Although prior research covered

in the literature did not find a significant relationship between these two (van den Berg

& Feig, 2003; Miller et al. 1999), we propose that such a link may in fact be found. An

individual high on the extraversion trait is characterized as being optimist (Costa &

McCrae, 1992) and has been found to reappraise problems positively (Bakker et al.

2006). For these reasons, they should be better equipped to deal with stressful situations

and present a positive attitude. We hypothesize that such a positive outlook would

produce a protective effect on the risk of experiencing psychological distress in

extraverted individuals. Furthermore, when observing the burnout literature, several

authors have found extraversion to be negatively related to job burnout (Bakker et al.

2006; Kim et al. 2007; Zellars et al. 2000). Since it is logical to deduct that mental

health problems may be positively correlated, these findings may indicate a negative

link between extraversion and psychological distress. Therefore, we expect to find a

negative relationship between extraversion and psychological distress [H12].

We equally put forward the occurrence of a direct relationship between

agreeableness and psychological distress. To our knowledge, no study has addressed

this relationship. In any case, we propose that there may be a negative relationship

between agreeableness and psychological distress. A negative relationship may yield

from the fact that agreeable workers are good-natured and forgiving (Costa & McCrae,

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1992). In this way, they may yield positive relationships with others in their

environment and be willing to forgive small issues. With regards to the literature on

other mental health problems, agreeableness has been found to have a negative

relationship with burnout (Kim et al. 2007; Piedmont, 1993; Mills & Huebner, 1998)

and may have a protective impact on the development of depressive symptoms due to

its association with social support (Vearing & Mak, 2007). Consequently, we expect

the relationship between agreeableness and psychological distress to be negative [H13].

A direct relationship can also be found between conscientiousness and

psychological distress. To our knowledge, past research has not addressed this issue.

However, we hypothesize that there will be a negative relationship between

conscientiousness and psychological distress. We attribute this to the characteristics

associated with conscientiousness such as being goal-direct, ambitious and perseverant

(Costa & McCrae, 1992), as well as using coping strategies axed on problem-solving

(Bakker et al. 2006). These traits suggest that these workers would be willing to resolve

the negative aspects of their work to achieve their future goals, exposing them less to

the negative effects of stress. Furthermore, Vearing & Mak (2007) found that

conscientiousness was negatively associated with depressive symptoms. Therefore, we

predict a negative relationship between conscientiousness and psychological distress


It is proposed that there is a direct relationship between neuroticism and

psychological distress. Miller et al. (1999) found neuroticism to be a significant

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