The personality trait of neuroticism is considered a risk factor for stress vulnerability, putatively via its association with elevated limbic reactivity. Nevertheless, majority of evidence to date that relates neuroticism, neural reactivity and stress vulnerability stems from cross-sectional studies conducted in a “stress-free” environment. Here, using a unique prospective longitudinal design, we assessed personality, stress-related symptoms and neural reactivity at three time points over the course of four and a half years; accounting for prior to, during, and long-time following a stressful military service that included active combat. Results revealed that despite exposure to multiple potentiality traumatic events, majority of soldiers exhibited none-to-mild levels of posttraumatic and depressive symptoms during and following their military service. In contrast, a quadratic pattern of change in personality emerged overtime, with neuroticism being the only personality trait to increase during stressful military service and subsequently decrease following discharge. Elevated neuroticism during military service was associated with reduced amygdala and hippocampus activation in response to stress-related content, and this association was also reversed following discharge. A similar pattern was found between neuroticism and hippocampus-anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) functional connectivity in response to stress-related content. Taken together these findings suggest that stressful military service at young adulthood may yield a temporary increase in neuroticism mediated by a temporary decrease in limbic reactivity, with both effects being reversed long-time following discharge. Considering that participants exhibited low levels of stress-related symptoms throughout the study period, these dynamic patterns may depict behavioral and neural mechanisms that facilitate stress resilience.
- Anterior Cingulate Cortex