- An international team of researchers from
Italy, UK and US combined, have
identified that brain morphology correlates with specific personality
- The five
personality traits that include neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness,
openness, conscientiousness are associated with the area, folding and
thickness of the brain cortex.
- This could be
used to understand the personality traits of people and detect
psychological illness based on brain morphology.
are so many clues to how we behave and our personality, not only by how our
functions, but also by its shape. Moreover, there is a risk of
developing mental health disorders, according to a study conducted by an
international team of researchers from the UK, Italy and the U.S.
The psychologists have found that the
vast variety of personality traits can be categorized into the 'Big Five'
traits and they are:
- How moody a
person is - neuroticism
- How enthusiastic
a person is - extraversion
- Measure of
altruism - agreeableness
- How open minded a
person is - openness
- Measure of
self-control - conscientiousness
This study involved the analysis of more than 500 individuals,
and is available in the Human Connectome Project, funded by
the National Institutes of Health. Thickness, area and amount of cortex were
the three measures of the brain cortical anatomy that were analyzed by the
psychologists. The brain cortex is the outer layer of the brain.
‘Brain morphology studies can be used to predict mental health disorders for early detection.’
team of researchers tried to find how these measures related to the 'Big Five'
personality traits. Dr. Luca Passamonti from the University of Cambridge said
that evolution shaped the anatomy of our brains in such a way that there was
maximization of the area and folding but at the expense of reduced thickness of
the cortex. The psychologist further explained that this was like stretching a
rubber sheet and that the increase in surface
area that was achieved was at the cost of the sheet becoming thinner. This is
called the 'cortical stretching hypothesis'.
the Department of Geriatrics at Florida State University, Dr. Antonio
Terracciano, said that cortical stretching was an important evolutionary
mechanism which allowed human brains to increase rapidly but which could still
be contained within the skull. The skull grew at a slower rate than the brain
but this process occurs during the time of development when growth occurs in
the womb. However, the brain continues
to grow all throughout childhood, teenage and well into adulthood. The rapid
growth of the brain when compared to the slower growth of the skull is
compensated by the decrease in thickness of the cortex but the area increases
due to increase in folding.
Brain Imaging Studies
study participants as part of the Human Connectome Project were healthy
volunteers who were between 22 and 36 years of age and whose brains were
imaged. They had no history of any neuro-psychiatric or other illnesses.
study found a relationship between personality traits of these individuals and
differences in their brain structure, indicating that the variations may be
more enhanced among individuals who were predisposed to developing
Big Five Personality
traits of each individual is different but can be broadly categorized into five major traits.
down as we age and as we learn to handle our emotions better. High levels of
neuroticism may increase the risk for people to develop neuropsychiatric
disorders and was associated with an increased thickness and lowered area with
reduced folding in certain regions of the cortex like the prefrontal-temporal
indicates how outgoing a person is. The cortical thickness was more in
extraversion. There was a significant negative association between extraversion
and surface area and cortical volume in the superior temporal cortex and
Conscientiousness and Agreeableness
The study further found that the traits of
agreeableness and conscientiousness increase with age, as we progress to being
more responsible and less antagonistic.
trait is associated with an interest for variety and novelty as well as
curiosity. Physiologically, it is associated with a reduction in the thickness
along with an increase in area with the presence of folding in certain
work supported the hypothesis that personality was associated with the maturation
of the brain with the developmental process strongly influenced by the genes
that are carried. The scientists state that personality may be influenced by
the experience and the environment shared by the individual but there are
distinct differences in the brain structure that contribute to the differences
in personality as well. This suggests that
there are certain influences exerted by genes which are also validated by the
belief that differences in personality traits are noticed even during infancy.
Linking Brain Structure to Personality
association between basic personality and the structure of the brain is a vital
step which will aid in
- Understanding the
association between morphology of the brain and their mood, behavior and
- Understanding the
relation between the function of the brain and its structure among people
who seem healthy but may be prone for psychological disorders.
current study is a continuation of their previous study where the structure of
the brain of teenagers with anti-social behavior was found to be significantly
different from teenagers who did not show the same behavior.
is an association that exists between personality variations with alteration in
the neurotransmitters' function, as well as in regional
brain metabolism suggest differences in novelty seeking, reward dependence and
persistence, harm avoidance which were observed in the study population. This shows that the structural
variance noticed in the normal brain regional morphology manifests behaviorally
as differences in personality traits.
- Roberta Riccelli Nicola Toschi Salvatore Nigro Antonio Terracciano Luca Passamonti. Surface-based morphometry reveals the neuroanatomical basis of the five-factor model of personality. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. (2017) DOI: https:doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsw175