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Could Someone Be Predisposed Towards Hikikomori?

How personality influences extreme social withdrawal.

Key points

  • People falling to hikikomori have similar traits of extraversion, openness, and neuroticism.
  • Predispositions to other mental illnesses, like depression and autism spectrum disorder, show up, too.
  • Predisposition does not equal destiny. Personality can be changed.

As any parent with two or more children knows: personalities vary and are very much innate. This is not to say that genetics is destiny, but personality is where nature resides. Sure, it can be influenced by nurture (environment), but let’s agree that nature and nurture aren’t binaries.

With that in mind, consider that personality is a combination of varying degrees of the following qualities, often referred to as the CANOE: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion. Studies of folks with hikikomori, a phenomenon wherein people remain isolated and withdrawn and stay in their parents' homes, or extreme social withdrawal (ESW) tend to show increased neuroticism and introversion with less openness. As Muris and Ollendick noted, these people are “easily distressed, anxious, and shy and seem to be more susceptible to become trapped in social disengagement and withdrawal.” They have a “temperament constellation of behavioral inhibition,” which is the “tendency to react with fear and avoidance toward unfamiliar stimuli, situations, and people.”

Studies reveal the connection between social anxiety disorder and selective mutism, too. And while social anxiety disorder is different from extreme social withdrawal, there is enough here to suggest a predisposition. To be clear: not everyone who is introverted or neurotic is destined to become hikikomori. In fact, many introverted people love connecting with other humans and have no difficulty doing so; it’s that they derive their energy from being alone or in smaller groups and favor different styles of communicating. Our egocentric culture favors extraversion, but that’s a separate conversation. Hikikomori also typically have no trouble connecting with people, which is what separates this presentation from social anxiety disorder.

People can also be predisposed to mental illness, too. Anxiety and depression are largely environmental, but some folks are more likely to experience these symptoms as chronic as opposed to others, who may experience them acutely. Autism Spectrum Disorder is surely genetic and may present in folks with ESW due to not having their needs met in social settings. Another neurocognitive disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, is genetic and common in ESW, but I think there are environmental factors—including technology (devices)—that exacerbate this condition.

Personality disorders are often reported with ESW, and dependent personality disorder would correlate with the role of permissive parenting; however, given that most of the cases of ESW are adolescent or young adult males, a diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder would be heavy-handed, for life has yet to disabuse them of the self-referential tendencies of youth. After all, what adolescent or young adult these days isn’t a bit narcissistic?

So, as folks with ESW have many of the above traits, does that mean that everyone born with these is destined towards ESW? Obviously not. Environment influences personality as feedback that reinforces in both positive and negative ways. There is variability within environments, which include home life as well as schools, jobs, and the built world—social access differs between rural, suburban, and urban settings. Social psychologists suggest that these places are influenced by cultural narratives, rules, norms, and economic systems. As we resist and conform to these attributes, our personalities are shaped by selecting situations, manipulating those experiences, evocation (being selected by jobs), and socialization (adapting). The more open-minded, conscientious people you’re around, the more it impacts your traits, but how that happens can depend on a myriad of variables too complex to bucket.

That’s because, as Dan Siegel and Lisa Feldman Barrett have studied, people are self-regulating animals whose neurobiological energy rises and falls in search of homeostasis. This is often referred to as the "window of tolerance." Much of it is governed by personality, but attachment plays a role in how one self-soothes, as those early relationships with a parent lay the foundation governing relationships. A naturally introverted person may seek homeostasis alone but, as studies show, would still feel lonely without social connection; neuroticism is the only personality trait most impacted by loneliness.

Loneliness is the displeasure experienced when disconnected from people. Aloneliness is the displeasure experienced when someone is prevented (or perhaps shamed) from seeking alone time. This would speak to ESW in that the pleasure of being alone prevents them from social engagement; however, many hikikomori have reported no discomfort in talking to people; they just prefer to be alone, contrasting with social anxiety, which is an avoidance tactic.

Just as personality traits can adapt and evolve through socialization, so too can they change via behavioral therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), which focuses on the experiential avoidance of difficult sensations, thoughts, and social conflict. ACT helps increase self-awareness so someone can direct energy towards behaving differently, which leads to them feeling and thinking differently.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Bainbridge, Timothy F., et al. “Evaluating the Big Five as an organizing framework for commonly used psychological trait scales.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 122, no. 4, 2022, pp. 749-777., doi: 10.1037/pspp0000395.

Barrett, Lisa Feldman. How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Buecker, Susanne, et al. “Loneliness and the Big Five Personality Traits: A meta-analysis.” European Journal of Personality, vol. 34, 2020, pp. 8-28, DOI: 10.1002/per.2229.

Buss, D. M. “Selection, evocation, and manipulation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 53, no. 6, 1987, pp. 1214–1221,

Muris, Peter, and Thomas H. Ollendick. “Contemporary Hermits: A Developmental Psychopathology Account of Extreme Social Withdrawal (Hikikomori) in Young People.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 26, 2023, pp. 459–481,

Siegel, Daniel J. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. Guilford Publications, 1999.

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