Open Access Research article

Broad and narrow personality traits as markers of one-time and repeated suicide attempts: A population-based study

Jelena Brezo1, Joel Paris2, Martine Hébert4, Frank Vitaro3, Richard Tremblay3 and Gustavo Turecki12*

Author affiliations

1 McGill Group for Suicide Studies, Douglas Hospital Research Center, Montreal, Canada

2 Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

3 GRIP, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada

4 Department of Sexology, University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:15  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-15

Published: 6 March 2008



Studying personality traits with the potential to differentiate between individuals engaging in suicide attempts of different degrees of severity could help us to understand the processes underlying the link of personality and nonfatal suicidal behaviours and to identify at-risk groups. One approach may be to examine whether narrow, i.e., lower-order personality traits may be more useful than their underlying, broad personality trait dimensions.


We investigated qualitative and quantitative differences in broad and narrow personality traits between one-time and repeated suicide attempters in a longitudinal, population-based sample of young French Canadian adults using two multivariate regression models.


One broad (Compulsivity: OR = 2.0; 95% CI 1.2–3.5) and one narrow personality trait (anxiousness: OR = 1.1; 95% CI 1.01–1.1) differentiated between individuals with histories of repeated and one-time suicide attempts. Affective instability [(OR = 1.1; 95% CI 1.04–1.1)] and anxiousness [(OR = .92; 95% CI .88–.95)], on the other hand, differentiated between nonattempters and one-time suicide attempters.


Emotional and cognitive dysregulation and associated behavioural manifestations may be associated with suicide attempts of different severity. While findings associated with narrow traits may be easier to interpret and link to existing sociobiological theories, larger effect sizes associated with broad traits such as Compulsivity may be better suited to objectives with a more clinical focus.