Sensitization or inoculation: Investigating the effects of early adversity on personality traits and stress experiences in adulthood.
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Cumulative evidence has been found for the associations between personality traits and stress experiences in adulthood. However, less is known about the moderating mechanisms underlying these associations. The present study tested whether the stress sensitization and stress inoculation hypotheses could be applied to the relationship between early adversity and personality in adulthood. Specifically, we tested the linear and curvilinear relations between early adversity (measured retrospectively) and adulthood personality traits, as well as the linear and curvilinear moderating effects of early adversity on the associations between adulthood stress and personality traits. Samples of older adults from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS; N = 6098) and middle-aged adults from the Midlife in the United States Survey (MIDUS; N = 6186) were used. Across the two samples, positive linear associations were found between retrospective early adversity and neuroticism. The results also suggested significant linear effects of early adversity on the association between ongoing chronic stressors and neuroticism such that individuals with moderate exposure to early adversity showed stronger associations between ongoing chronic stressors and neuroticism. Results from the current research were more in line with the stress sensitization model. No support was found for the stress inoculation effects on personality.