Openness to Experience and Completed Suicide Across the Second Half of Life

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Personality data gathered in a psychological autopsy study indicate that completed suicides obtain higher neuroticism scores than age- and gender-matched controls. Older suicide victims obtained lower openness to experience (OTE) scores than both younger suicide victims and normal controls. Although the role of neuroticism and negative affect in psychopathology has been discussed extensively, OTE has been accorded relatively little attention in the psychiatric literature. The apparent role of OTE in completed suicide warrants its closer examination. In this article, I offer the testable hypotheses that persons low in OTE are at risk for taking their own lives because their affective dampening, cognitive certainty, diminished behavioral repertoire, and rigidly defined self-concept have decreased their capacity to adapt to the expectable age-associated changes in role, health, and function that accumulate over time. Concrete thinking and excessive focus on proximal, low-level goals place them at risk for descending into states of suicidal meaninglessness in times of stress or crisis. This state of awareness increases the desirability of suicide as an action-oriented solution to the stressors of aging. Other lines of investigation are suggested. These include research on OTE in attempted suicide; OTE and the neurobiology of suicidal behavior; OTE and gender differences in suicidal behavior; and clinical intervention designed to increase the degree to which one is open to experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-198
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Gerontology


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