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Neural basis of personality

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Clara LS

on 30 November 2014

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Transcript of Neural basis of personality

Social Anxiety Disorder
Link in the brain
Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex
Anterior cingulate cortex
Dopamine + opioid systems
Fear and avoid the scrutiny of others
Concern about saying or doing something that will result in embarrassment or humiliation
Pathological intraversion?
‘The tendency to experience the negative emotions and cognitions that accompagny experiences of threat and punishment, including anxiety, depression, anger, irritation, self-conciousness, rumination and vulnerability’

‘Neuroticism reflects a global dimension of negative emotionality that encompasses the tendencies to experience negative affect in the face of minor stressors, to be aroused quickly and for arousal to fall slowly following stimulation. It also reflects tendencies towards worrying and post-event processing, tendencies to appraise events as stressful and an inability to control urges. A core feature of neuroticism is a difficulty in emotion regulation'
Big five personality trait
Relatively stable over time
Hard to change with therapeutic interventions

Link between neuroticism and depression?
Common cause theory: common genetic and environmental determinants
Vulnerability model: neuroticism → psychological processes → depression

Anterior Cingulate Cortex
Larger in neurotic people

--> higher sensitivity to:
the possibility of error following punishment
the possibility of pain following punishment

Prefrontal Cortex

Smaller in neurotic people

Related to poor emotion regulation


Smaller in neurotic people

A role in detection of uncertainty and goal conflict --> declares high sensitivity towards uncertainty in neurotic people
Linking the brain systems together?

BIS system:
inhibition of responses
orientation of attention to threat
enhancement of arousal

The link to depression
Serotonergic activity
Emotion regulation ~ amygdala
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - specific association

Abnormal connectivity OFC <--> Amygdala
Excitatory connection
Hyperreactivity in limbic brain regions
What is agreeableness?
One of the big 5 personality traits
Tendency toward altruism and cooperation as opposed to antisocial and exploitative behavior
agreeable people
non agreeable people
What is psychopathy?
Diminished empathy and remorse
Disinhibited, bold behaviour
Highly comorbid with antisocial personality disorder
The link between psychopathy and agreeableness
Agreeableness is a
robust predictor
of psychopathy

Agreeableness and psychopathy in the brain
James Fallon's case
Pro-social psychopath:
based on further neurological and behavioral research into psychopathy

MAO-A gene
PET scans

to experience
engagement with aesthetic or sensory information
engagement with abstract or intellectual information
"tendency to process abstract and perceptual information flexibly and effectively, and includes traits such as imagination, intellectual engagement, and aesthetic interest."
Are you open/intellectual?
fifth factor
‘‘Intellect’’ (e.g., intellectuality and intelligence)
‘‘Openness’’ (e.g., imagination, unconventionality, interest in art)
either label would be appropriate (e.g., curiosity, creativity).
(DeYoung, 2010, pp. 1172).

(Barnhofer & Chittka, 2010, pp. 275).
Social relevance
Trait marked by pronounced engagement with the external world
Low extraversion
Bahrami, H., Borjali, A., Ghadesi, D., & Sohrabi, F. (2011). Survey the relationship between five factor model and psychopathic personality in a sample of male prisoners in Iran.
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DeYoung, C.G. (2010). Personality and the biology of traits.
Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4
(12), 1165-1180. Doi: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00327.x.

what is conscientiousness?

achievement - striving
in the brain
left middle frontal gyrus
lateral prefrontal
plan and follow complex rules
maintaining information in working memory
execution of planned action
amygdala & nucleus accumbens
low serotonin
absence of control
lack of restraining impulses, aggression, depression.
and neurodegenerative
frontotemporal dementia
Occurring symptoms
Loss of inhibitions
Social inappropriate behavior
Executive dysfunction disruption in the ability to plan and order
Increase of selfishness
Compulsive behavior

frontal mass decreases, conscientiousness decreases !
most important

higher activity

bigger volume
hormone and neurotransmiter
dopaminergic system
projections to brain structures
functioning of regions like the PFC,
of modulation by dopamine
of these regions by dopaminergic neurons
sensitivity and activity
of the dopaminergic system itself
dealing with novelty
generating plans
considering possibilities
analyzing and synthesizing abstract or complex relations
PFC = dopamine
strongest in the dorsolateral region
enhances dorsolateral PFC functions SPECIFICALLY
strongest in the dorsolateral PFC
enhance specifical functions
allow entrance of new information and/or improve processing
dealing with novelty
generating plans
considering possibilities
complex abstract relations
increased dopaminergic activation
increased cognitive flexibility
tests of cognitive ability and working memory
more linked to intelligence and working memory
abstract integration of multiple cognitive operations
drawing abstract analogies
monitoring goal - directed performance
detecting the likelihood of error during cognitive tasks
Selfishness, callousness, and interpersonal manipulation

low Agreeableness
Impulsity, instability and social deviance

low agreeableness,
high neuroticism
Theory of mind
Social information reasoning
Superior temporal gyrus
Posterior cingulate cortex
‘The tendency
to experience the negative emotions and cognitions that accompagny experiences of threat and punishment
, including anxiety, depression, anger, irritation, self-conciousness, rumination and vulnerability’

‘Neuroticism reflects a
global dimension of negative emotionality
that encompasses the
tendencies to experience negative affect
in the face of minor
to be
aroused quickly
and for arousal to fall slowly following stimulation. It also reflects tendencies towards
worrying and post-event processing
, tendencies to
appraise events as stressful
and an
inability to control urges
. A core feature of neuroticism is a
difficulty in emotion regulation
neural correlates of the psychopathic core features of callousness and poor moral
(DeYoung, 2010, pp. 1172).
(Barnhofer & Chittka, 2010, pp. 275).
1. Stress dysregulates HPA-ax
2. Hippocampal volume reduces
3. Activity in prefrontal cortex reduces
4. Result: homeostasis within neurocircuit of depression disrupted

linked to 'theory of mind' and moral reasoning
associated with psychopathy
Low extraversion
Pathological introversion
Foster, J.A. & MacQueen, G. (2008). Neurobiological factors linking personality traits and major depression.
Canadian journal of psychiatry, 53
, 6-13.
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Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness
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, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht279. [epub]
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The research towards the neurobiology of personality is still in its infancy and our current understanding of neurobiology seems to be insufficient to develop a model of personality that is only derived from biological variables (Foster & Macqueen, 2008)

Do you think that neuroscience can say anything useful about the underlying brain mechanisms of personality? And about the relation between the brain and psychiatric disorders?
Do you think they should be held responsible for their actions?

“I’m obnoxiously competitive. I won’t let my grandchildren win games. I’m kind of an asshole, and I do jerky things that piss people off. I’m aggressive, but my aggression is sublimated. I’d rather beat someone in an argument than beat them up.”

There are some people who have had a brain damage and afterward experienced a drastic change in personality.
By looking inside the brain we can discover many things about people's personality.
How far do you think we should go? Is it ethic to classify a person according to what his/her brain structure shows?
Neuroscience in general is based on LOCALIZATIONISM - theory that different brain functions can be localized to different physical regions of the brain.
The other idea, that has only lately rised, is NEURPLASTICITY - brain's ability to change neural pathways and improve/replace some functions
How does our brain work? Are functions localized, or plastic and dynamic? If the brain really is plastic, is there any point in trying to find personality trait in one single structure?
What plays bigger role in the development of personality: brain (NATURE) or the environment (NURTURE)?
We've heard dozen of findings about the way in which the architecture of the brain predisposes personality.
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