How Our Personalities Are Linked With Our Thoughts

What kinds of memories do you tend to recall? Are many of them happy? Sad? Do you dwell on them?

A new study in the journal Emotion shows just how our personalities are linked with the sorts of thoughts we have, and the best ways to deal when we are stuck on negative memories.

Researchers found that men and women who are extroverted are more likely to look back at positive things that have happened in their lives, moreso than negative things.

"Our findings provide initial evidence that extraversion, typically associated with being assertive and experiencing excitement and positive affect, also contributes to remembering more positive personal experiences and to maintaining a positive state," the researchers wrote in the study.

Men and women with what experts call "neuroticism" -- when a person dwells on negative memories -- have more negative thinking experiences, though. The researchers found that women with neuroticism are more likely to "return to the same negative memories again and again," known as rumination, the release said, which can be linked with depression.

Men with neuroticism, on the other hand, tend to remember a greater quantity of negative memories than positive ones, compared with men who are less neurotic, according to the study.

"Depressed people recollect those negative memories and as a result they feel sad," study researcher Florin Dolcos, of the University of Alberta, said in a statement. "And as a result of feeling sad, the tendency is to have more negative memories recollected. It's a kind of a vicious circle."

The study included 71 people -- 38 women and 33 men. None of the study participants were diagnosed with depression or any other kind of emotional disorder.

Researchers also examined the strategies people used to cope with their negative memories. Some people tried to suppress whatever memory was causing them emotional pain. Others, by contrast, turned to reappraisal: a mechanism in which a person tries to convince him or herself that a bad situation really wasn't all that bad -- or that there was good that came out of it.

The researchers found that men who tried to reappraise their bad memories were also the ones who remembered more positive memories overall than others. However, suppressing bad memories didn't really seem to make any difference in how men recalled positive or negative memories.

Women who suppressed their bad memories were more likely to remember those bad memories in the first place, and were also more likely to suffer a bad mood after thinking about those memories, the researchers found. However, researchers did not find that reappraisal resulted in fewer bad memories recalled by the women.

Overall, the researchers said the takeaway is that certain coping methods seem to work better than others in terms of what to do when you're conjuring up past bad memories: Channel your outgoing side, don't let yourself ruminate and dwell on negative thoughts, and instead focus on positive memories.