•We tested the effect of intrusive thought on the neuroticism-cognition association.•Intrusive thoughts mediated the association between neuroticism and cognition.•Intrusive thoughts mediated the association beyond the effects of negative affect.•Results stress the importance of future interventions targeting intrusive thought. Although research has established a negative association between trait neuroticism and cognition, little is known about the mechanisms that underlie this relationship. We examined the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts and negative affect as potential mediators of the relationship between neuroticism and cognitive performance. We hypothesized that the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts reflects ineffective attentional control and would account for the relationship between neuroticism and cognitive performance over and above the mediating effect of negative affect. Three hundred seventeen adults (Mage=49.43) completed a series of attention-demanding cognitive tasks as well as self-report measures of intrusive thoughts, negative affect, and neuroticism. Intrusive thoughts mediated the association between trait neuroticism and cognitive performance beyond negative affect. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the tendency to experience intrusive thoughts is a mechanism through which trait neuroticism influences cognitive performance.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes