2013. Vol.4, No.10, 729-735
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 729
The Role of Neuroticism in the Relation between Self-Esteem and
Aggressive Emotion among 1085 Chinese Adolescents
Zhaojun Teng1, Yanling Liu1,2*
1Research Center of Mental Health Education & Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University,
Chongqing, China
2Key Laboratory for NeuroInformation of Ministry of Education & School of Life Science and Technology,
University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, China
Email:, *
Received July 24th, 2013; revised August 25th, 2013; accepted September 29th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Zhaojun Teng, Yanling Liu. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative
Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
The present study aimed to reveal the role of neuroticism on the relationship between self-esteem and ag-
gressive emotion. We conducted a cross-sectional study in which a battery of self-report questionnaires was
used to assess self-esteem, neuroticism and aggressive emotion in 1085 Chinese adolescents (N = 1085, Mage
= 16.38 years, 753 boys). We found that self-esteem could make a negative prediction of aggressive emo-
tion both in males and females. And also, we found the mediating role of neuroticism was in both males
and females, on the relations between self-esteem and aggressive emotion, especially, the moderating role
of neuroticism among males in the aspect of relationship between self-esteem and aggressive emotion. In
conclusion, neuroticism was of importance for aggressive emotion, which was conducive to interventions.
According to these findings, at the same time, implications and limitations were discussed in the content.
Keywords: Self-Esteem; Aggressive Emotion; Neuroticism
Aggression is thought to be predicted by individual personal-
ity traits (e.g., self-esteem or the “Big 5” personality traits) that
are influenced by emotions (e.g., anger or feelings of aggres-
sion; Anderson, Anderson, & Deuser, 1996; Anderson, Deuser,
& DeNeve, 1995; Bushman & Anderson, 2001). The General
Aggression Model (GAM) posits that emotions, beliefs, and
arousal interact to produce or inhibit aggressive behavior
(Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Recently, a study with Chinese
adolescents showed that they feel less happy and are less likely
to employ strategies to regulate negative affect than adolescents
of previous generations (Sang & Deng, 2010); this may be re-
lated to the reported increase of aggressive emotions among
Chinese adolescents (Liu & Zhu, 2010). Adolescents are also
more likely to engage in vengeful acts (McCullough, Bellah,
Kilpatrick, & Johnson, 2001). These findings suggested that
aggressive emotions are affected by various factors, including
personality traits and the external environment, as well as the
complicated interaction between these factors, along with other
constructs such as self-awareness and self-control.
Because feelings of aggression are not always sufficient to
produce aggressive behavior, predicting who will act out on
their aggressive impulses requires investigating this interaction
between personality and emotional variables. The present study
focused on exploring the possible influence of neuroticism on
the relationship between self-esteem and aggressive emotions.
The current study found that neuroticism could be as mediator
and moderator on relations between self-esteem and aggressive
emotion in males, but only mediator in females.
Self-esteem is an important part of a stable personality sys-
tem. The relationship between self-esteem and aggression,
however, is not clear. In addition, few studies have examined
this issue, and those that have offer conflicting results. Accord-
ing to one school of ego threat theory, people with low self-
esteem are prone to aggression: researchers have shown that
negative emotions among people with low self-esteem—such
as depression, anxiety, and anger—may be predictive of ag-
gression and violence (Lee & Hankin, 2009; Verona, Parick, &
Lang, 2002). However, other researchers have proposed that
people with high self-esteem are more aggressive (Donnellan,
Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005) or that self-
esteem and aggression are not related (Baumeister, Bushman, &
Campbell, 2000; Thomaes, Bushman, de Castro, Cohen, &
Denissen, 2009). Given this debate, empirical evidence of a
possible relationship between aggression and self-esteem is
necessary for the perspective of aggressive emotion.
Some researchers have indicated that high self-esteem nega-
tively predicts aggressive emotions, such as anger and hostility
(for a review, see Arslan, 2009; Ostrowsky, 2010). However,
there are discrepancies in existing results. For example, re-
searchers have suggested that unstable high levels of self-es-
teem strongly predict anger and hostility, that people with little
anger and hostility have stable high levels of self-esteem, and
that stability of high self-esteem predicts anger (Kernis, Gran-
nemann, & Barclay, 1989; Waschull & Kernis, 1996). These
studies seem to indicate that stability of self-esteem is a more
important predictor of anger than level. However, a seven-year
*Corresponding author.
longitudinal study with children reported that declines in de-
pression and anger predicted increases in self-esteem (Galam-
bos, Barker, & Krahn, 2006).
As can be seen, the relationship between self-esteem and ag-
gressive emotions is complex. Recently, study samples have
expanded from those composed of the general population to
those including special groups, such as people with schizophre-
nia spectrum disorders (Lysaker, Davis, & Tsai, 2009), sexually
abused adolescents (Asgeirsdottir, Gudjonsson, Sigurdsson, &
Sigfusdottir, 2010), and persons dependent on alcohol and other
substances (Pekala, Kumar, Maurer, Elliott-Carter, & Moon,
2009). Studies with such samples have shown that high
self-esteem can significantly predict low anger. In addition,
researchers have found gender differences in the relationship
between self-esteem and aggressive emotions, for example,
females stronger positively correlation than males between
those variables (Nunn & Thomas, 1999).
In sum, despite the seeming importance of the relationship
between self-esteem and aggressive emotion, the mechanisms
underlying this relationship have not been adequately clarified,
and the variables that may mediate or moderate this relationship
have not yet been fully identified.
Neuroticism is not only a crucial personality variable—being
one of the Big 5—but it has also been shown to be positively
correlated with aggressive emotions (Sharpe & Desai, 2001).
Egan and Lewis (2011) found that affective aggression was
predicted by neuroticism alone, whereas narcissistic aggression
was underpinned by low agreeableness, extraversion, and per-
ceived masculinity. With a general overview of previous re-
search, we noted two points: 1) neuroticism may serve as a
mediator in the relationships between self-esteem and aggres-
sive emotion, and 2) neuroticism may serve as a moderator by
directly affecting how self-esteem predicts aggressive emotion.
Regarding the first point, neuroticism has been shown to
positively predict negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, depression;
Muris, Roelofs, Rassin, Franken, & Mayer, 2005). Persons with
anxiety and depression tend to score high on instruments meas-
uring neuroticism. It may be that neuroticism negatively pre-
dicts subjective well-being by acting as a mediator between
negative emotions and subjective well-being (Payne, 1988).
Furthermore, research indicates that neuroticism is a mediator
in the association between the serotonin transporter gene and
lifetime major depression (Munafò, Clark, Roberts, & Johns-
tone, 2006). Hence, neuroticism has usually been considered a
mediating emotional variable.
As to the second point, neuroticism may also play a moder-
ating role as a personality variable. Persons with a high neurotic
tendency tend to react excessively to threatening stimuli and
feel nervous in all kinds of situations; consequently, they show
poor emotion adjustment and experience rapid mood swings.
Furthermore, neuroticism could be a moderator influencing the
negative effects of stress on health (Jin & Su, 2009).
Taking into consideration previous research (Anderson &
Bushman, 2002; Barlett & Anderson, 2012; Galambos et al.,
2006; Kernis et al., 1989; Lee & Hankin, 2009; Liu & Zhu,
2010; Muris et al., 2005; Sharpe & Desai, 2001; Waschull &
Kernis, 1996), and by referring to the GAM model (Anderson
& Bushman, 2002) and ego threat theory (Baumeister et al.,
2000; Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1966), we predicted a
strong negative correlation between self-reported neuroticism
and self-esteem, as well as a positive correlation between ag-
gressive emotions and neuroticism. Finally, we hypothesized
that neuroticism would be both a mediating and a moderating
variable in the relationship between self-esteem and aggressive
emotion. According to these hypotheses, we created the model
shown in Figure 1.
By a random group sampling method, a questionnaire was
administered to 1300 students from seven Chinese high schools
(Mage = 16.38 years, SD = 1.07; range: 15 - 18 years) located in
the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province, and 1085 valid re-
sponses were obtained (valid response rate: 83.46%). The sam-
ple included 753 boys, 321 girls, and 11 students who did not
provide gender information.
Participants completed the Rosenberg Self-esteem Scale
(Rosenberg, 1965), a ten-item self-report scale (Cronbach’s
alpha = .83) scored on a five-point Likert scale, ranging from 1
(“doesn’t describe me at all”) to 5 (“describes me completely”).
A sample item is, “I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on
an equal plane with others.” The total score range of this scale
is 0 to 50 points, with higher scores indicating higher explicit
Participants completed only the neuroticism subscale of the
Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (Eysenck & Eysenck, 1975;
Qian, Wu, Zhu, & Zhang, 2000). The Chinese version of this
questionnaire, translated by Zhonggeng Chen (1983), has dem-
onstrated sufficient reliability and validity. The neuroticism
subscale consists of 24 yes/no items. Scores can range from 0
to 24 points, with higher scores indicating higher levels of neu-
Aggressive Emotions
Participants completed the anger and hostility subscales of
the Buss and Perry Aggression Questionnaire (Buss and Perry,
1992) to measure aggressive emotions (Barlett & Anderson,
2012). The Chinese version of this questionnaire has been
shown to have adequate reliability and validity in adolescents
(Liu, Zhou, & Gu, 2009). The trait anger subscale contains
Self-esteem ×
Neuroticism Self-esteem
( + )
( - )
( - )
( - )
Figure 1.
A model of self-esteem, neuroticism, and aggressive emotion.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
seven items (e.g., “I am sometimes eaten up by jealousy.”
Cronbach’s alpha = .72) and the hostility subscale eight items
(e.g., “When people are especially nice, I wonder what they
want”; Cronbach’s alpha = .83).
Students from the aforementioned seven high schools were
randomly selected to receive the questionnaires. After giving
informed consent, the students completed the questionnaires in
their classrooms. The questionnaire took about ten minutes to
Data Analysis
SPSS 16.0 for Windows and AMOS 7.0 software were used
to analyze the data. First, we computed the correlations be-
tween the three main variables—aggressive emotion (which
contained trait anger and hostility; Barlett & Anderson, 2012),
neuroticism, and self-esteem. The moderating effect of neuroti-
cism was examined using hierarchical regression analysis (Wen,
Hau, & Chang, 2005). The mediating effect of neuroticism on
the relationship between self-esteem and aggressive emotion
was analyzed via structural equation modeling, and various
indices were used to evaluate model fit (Hu & Bentler, 1999;
Quintana & Maxwell, 1999). The indirect effect of neuroticism
on self-esteem as a predictor of aggressive emotion was calcu-
lated with a bootstrap estimation procedure (1000 reiterations).
We used bootstrap estimation because we did not know the
distribution of the indirect effects, even though the predictor
variables followed a Gaussian distribution.
Descriptive Statistics
As reported in Table 1, aggressive emotions were signifi-
cantly negatively correlated with self-esteem and significantly
positively correlated with neuroticism for both male and female
participants. Unexpectedly, female participants self-reported
higher levels of aggressive emotion than did male participants
(t = 4.63, p < .01, Cohen’s d = .3), but scored lower on
self-esteem than did male participants (t = 2.46, p = .01,
Cohen’s d = .2).
Table 1.
Descriptive statistics and zero-order correlations for all measures.
1 2 3 4 5 M (SD)
1. Trait anger - .46** .34 ** .17** .85 ** 2.63 (.81)
2. Trait hostility .50** - .32 ** .24** .85 ** 2.65 (.74)
3. Neuroticism .26** .25** - .14** .39** 8.70 (2.45)
4. Self-esteem .16** .34** .19** - .23** 3.45 (.61)
5. Aggressive
emotion .88** .85** .3 0 ** .28** - 2.64 (.67)
M (SD) 2.35
(.63) -
Note: Correlation coefficients for males (n = 753) are below the diagonal and
correlation coefficients for females (n = 321) are above the diagonal. For males,
values greater than .14 or less than .14 were statistically significant (**p < .01).
For females, values greater than .16 or less than .16 were statistically significant
(**p < .01).
Mediating and Moderating Effects of Neuroticism
The mediating effect of neuroticism is presented in Table 2.
Sex was not found to mediate the effect of neuroticism. Neu-
roticism partially mediated self-esteem and aggressive emotions
for male participants, as the fit indices for Model C were supe-
rior to those for the full-factor model (Model A, χ2(4, n = 753)
= 134.87, p < .01) and the full-mediating-role model (Model B,
χ2(3, n = 753) = 115.96, p < .01); for instance, the root mean
square error of approximation (RMSEA) for Model C was less
than .08 and the SRMR was less than .05. Analogous results
were found for female participants: the fit indices for Model F
were superior to those for the full-factor (Model D, χ2(4, n =
321) = 139.62, p < .01) and full-mediating-role models (Model
E, χ2(3, n = 321) = 109.43, p < .01); The RMSEA for Model F
was less than .08 and the SRMR was less than .05.
Hierarchical regression analysis was used to analyze the
moderating effect of neuroticism (Table 3). For the hierarchical
regression analysis, aggressive emotion was set as the depend-
ent variable, and we entered self-esteem and neuroticism into
the regression on the first step, and the interaction between
self-esteem and neuroticism, for both males and females, on the
second step. A significant moderating effect (p < .01) was
found for male participants, but not for female participants (p
> .10).
To analyze the moderating effect found for the male partici-
pants, we used a method devised by Aiken and West (1991):
the sample was divided into a high self-esteem group (scoring
at least one SD above the mean on the self-esteem scale) and a
low self-esteem group (scoring at least one SD below the mean).
The sample was then divided into a high neuroticism group and
a low neuroticism group in the same manner (Figure 2). We
found that male participants with low levels of neuroticism also
had low levels of aggressive emotion, while those with high
levels of neuroticism also had high levels of aggressive emotion,
irrespective of levels of self-esteem. This result suggests that
levels of neuroticism moderate the ability of self-esteem to
predict aggressive emotions.
Results Summary
We used a mixed model to examine the mediating and mod-
erating effects of neuroticism on the relationship between
self-esteem and aggressive emotion (Figure 3).
For male participants (Model X), neuroticism was found to
have a mediating and moderating effect on the relationship
between self-esteem and aggressive emotion, as determined
Low Self-esteemHigh Self-esteem
Low Neuroticism
High Neuroticism
Figure 2.
The moderating effect of neuroticism on the relationship be-
tween self-esteem and aggressive emotion among males.
(Note: The Y-axis shows the level of aggressive emotion).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 731
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 2.
Model fit indices for the effects of neuroticism on self-esteem and aggressive emotion.
Gender Models χ2 df χ2/df NFI TLI CFI RMSEA SRMR Δχ2 Δdf
Male Model A 270.55** 10 27.05 .93 .81 .93 .07 .10
Model B 135.68** 6 22.61 .87 .63 .88 .10 .04 134.87 4
Model C 19.71** 3 6.56 .98 .90 .98 .05 .03 115.96 3
Female Model D 271.61** 10 27.16 .91 .76 .92 .08 .11
Model E 131.99** 6 21.99 .85 .55 .85 .11 .04 139.62 4
Model F 22.56** 3 7.52 .97 .86 .97 .06 .04 109.43 3
Note: Models A, B, and C show sample indices for male participants, and Models D, E, and F show those for female participants. Models A and D: the full-factor models
for self-esteem, neuroticism, and aggressive emotion (no mediating effect of neuroticism). Models B and E: the full mediating effect of neuroticism on self-esteem as a
predictor of aggressive emotion. Models C and F: the partial mediating effect of neuroticism on self-esteem as a predictor of aggressive emotion. NFI, normed fit index;
TLI, Tucker-Lewis index; CFI, comparative fit index; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation; SRMR, standardized root mean square residual (**p < .01).
Table 3.
Hierarchical regression analysis of the predictive relationship of aggressive emotion by self-esteem and neuroticism, separated by gender.
Gender Independent variable ΔR2 β t p
Male Self-esteem .06 .20 5.93 p < .01
Neuroticism .13 .38 11.41 p < .01
Self-esteem × Neuroticism .02 .10 2.95 p < .01
Female Self-esteem .08 .24 4.54 p < .01
Neuroticism .06 .26 4.86 p < .01
Self-esteem × Neuroticism .01 .07 1.42 p = .15
Note: Self-esteem × Neuroticism indicates the interaction of self-esteem and neuroticism variables.
Model X Model Y
Self-esteem ×
Neuroticism Self-esteem
Self-esteem ×
Neuroticism Self-esteem
Figure 3.
Results of the mixed model analysis for the model of self-esteem, neuroticism, and aggressive emotion. Model X shows results for male partici-
pants, and Model Y shows the results for female participants. Solid lines indicate significant effects (**p < .01), while the dashed line indicates a
non-significant effect (p > .05).
with the Preacher and Hayes (2004) method. Self-esteem sig-
nificantly predicted neuroticism (β = .57, p < .01), neuroticism
significantly predicted aggressive emotions (β = .09, p < .01),
and self-esteem significantly predicted aggressive emotions (β
= .18, p < .01). A bootstrap estimation procedure (1000 reit-
erations) found significant direct and mediating effects of
self-esteem and neuroticism on aggressive emotion, as well as
an indirect effect (.05, p < .01, 95% confidence interval [.09,
.02]). The indirect to total effect ratio was .27, which implies
that the indirect effect of neuroticism was 27%. We also found
an interaction between self-esteem and neuroticism (β = .09, p
< .01), which implies that the moderating effect of neuroticism
significantly predicted aggressive emotions by self-esteem.
For female participants (Model Y), neuroticism was found to
have only a mediating effect on the relationship between
self-esteem and aggressive emotions. Self-esteem significantly
predicted neuroticism (β = .78, p < .01), and neuroticism pre-
dicted aggressive emotions (β = .08, p < .05). A bootstrap esti-
mation procedure (1000 reiterations) found that self-esteem had
a significant direct predictive effect on aggressive emotions (β
= .25, p < .01) as well as an indirect effect (.06, p < .01, 95%
confidence interval [.10, .02]), indicating a substantial me-
diator effect. The interaction between self-esteem and neuroti-
cism was not significant (β = .07, p > .05), which suggests the
absence of a moderator effect of neuroticism for female par-
This study demonstrates a relationship between the two per-
sonality variables of self-esteem and neuroticism and the emo-
tional variable of aggressive emotions. Our analysis revealed
both a mediating and moderating role of neuroticism in the
relationship between self-esteem and aggressive emotions for
male adolescents, but only a mediating effect for female ado-
Variables can act as both mediators and moderators simulta-
neously (Cui & Conger, 2008)—in other words, a third variable
can have both a mediating and a moderating effect on the rela-
tions between independent variables and dependent variables
when this variable also has an strong influence on the depend-
ent variables (MacKinnon & Fairchild, 2009). Neuroticism
predicted the level of aggressive emotion, consistent with pre-
vious findings (e.g., Sharpe & Desai, 2001) and mediated the
relationship between self-esteem and aggressive emotion. This
finding extends existing evidence on the relationship between
self-esteem and aggressive behavior. Aggressive emotions were
previously considered to directly produce aggressive behavior
(Anderson & Bushman, 2002; Barlett & Anderson, 2012), but
the present study suggests that neuroticism has an important
role in this pathway. Furthermore, the lack of a moderating role
of neuroticism in the relationship between self-esteem and ag-
gressive emotions for our female participants implies that gen-
der plays an important role in the moderating effects of neuroti-
This paper presents evidence that favors the theory that low
self-esteem might produce aggressive behavior due to aggres-
sive emotions (Donnellan et al., 2005). Participants with low
self-esteem are prone to high levels of self-abasement and de-
pression (Cong, Tian, & Zhang, 2005). They are often reclusive,
with little confidence to act even though they feel the need to
protect themselves when their self-esteem is threatened. People
with low self-esteem easily fall prey to aggressive emotions
such as anger and hostility. However, in some people with low
self-esteem, negative emotions take the place of aggressive
behavior. Hence, we could conclude that some emotional vari-
able (e.g., neuroticism) is necessary to activate aggressive be-
havior in people with low self-esteem.
Self-esteem predicted aggressive emotions for both male and
female participants, and this was partially mediated by neuroti-
cism. Neuroticism functions as both a personality and an emo-
tional variable, and from the personality perspective, neuroti-
cism is stable and not easily changed. Neuroticism, therefore,
could also play a moderating role in the relationship between
aggressive emotion and self-esteem. However, for our female
participants, no moderating effect was found. This implies that
the personality and emotional functions of neuroticism could
have an interactive effect on people’s actions in daily life. The
behavior of women is thought to be more affected by emotion.
Our finding a mediating effect, but no moderating effect, of
neuroticism on the relationship between self-esteem and ag-
gressive emotion may indicate that neuroticism functioned as
an emotional variable more than as a personality variable
among our female sample. Additionally, the fact that the male
students did present a moderating effect of neuroticism on ag-
gressive emotion and self-esteem suggests that they are more
prone to action than female students. However, we must note
that it is possible that the sample size for female participants
was not large enough to detect an existing moderator effect.
As mentioned previously, neuroticism is an emotional vari-
able because it highly linked to emotional information process-
ing. People with high scores on the neuroticism scale have con-
stantly changing moods; hence, previous research has consid-
ered it as a potential mediator in a variety of cognitive-emo-
tional relationships. Aggressive people usually exhibit negative
emotions (e.g., anger or sadness), both of which are strongly
linked to aggression (Lee & Hankin, 2009; Stucke & Sporer,
2002; Verona et al., 2002). Thus, we conclude that neuroticism
might mediate the relationship between personality variables
(e.g., self-esteem) and emotion variables (e.g., aggressive emo-
Even though this study revealed the role of neuroticism in
self-esteem and aggressive emotions, no interaction between
aggressive emotion and self-esteem was found. However, we
did not explore the relationship between implicit self-esteem
and aggressive emotion, which has been widely examined in
previous research (Baccus, Baldwin, & Packer, 2004;
Schröder-Abé, Rudolph, & Schütz, 2007). The relationship
between implicit self-esteem and aggression has already been
well explored. For instance, research has shown that implicit
and explicit self-esteem might influence aggressive behaviors
(Thomaes & Bushman, 2011), and implicit self-esteem could be
considered a mediator in the relationship between self-en-
hancement and explicit self-esteem (Bosson, Brown, Zeigler-
Hill, & Swann, 2003). Therefore, the relationship between im-
plicit and explicit self-esteem and aggressive emotion requires
further explanation. Future research could also examine
whether neuroticism plays a mediating or moderating role in
such relationships.
Another limitation of the present study concerns its correla-
tional design and use of questionnaires. To our knowledge, no
research has explored the relationship between self-esteem and
aggressive emotion using an experimental design, which would
allow direct testing of the mediating and moderating effects of
neuroticism. This point should be addressed in future research.
The final limitation concerns the use of Rosenberg’s
Self-esteem Scale, which has only ten items. This might have
affected the generalizability of our conclusion that self-esteem
negatively predicts aggressive emotion. Considering the various
types of self-esteem, it is difficult to measure self-esteem ac-
cordingly, which might be why the relationship between
self-esteem and aggression has not been made clear (Ostrowsky,
2010). Furthermore, it would be worthwhile to investigate the
relationships among ego, self-awareness, and aggressive emo-
tion in future studies. To further explore the relationship be-
tween self-esteem and aggressive emotion, comprehensive
assessments utilizing diverse paradigms should be performed.
In this regard, further cross-sectional and longitudinal research
would be useful.
This paper revealed that neuroticism had a mediating and
moderating effect on the relationship between self-esteem and
aggressive emotion for males, but only a mediating effect for
females. For male participants, low or high levels of neuroti-
cism were associated with low or high levels of aggressive
emotion, respectively, regardless of levels of self-esteem. A
result suggests that neuroticism moderates the ability of
self-esteem to predict aggressive emotions.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 733
This study was supported by the fund of Construction Re-
search Team of Project “Effect of Network Media on the Ag-
gression of Youth and Its Neural Mechanism” at Faculty of
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