Personality Neuroscience #6: The biological causes of Conscientiousness

This is Part 6 of our series on Personality Neuroscience. Click here to read from the beginning.

Conscientiousness is a Big Five trait that explains an individual’s ability and tendency to pursue non-immediate goals and follow a set of rules, often manifesting in orderly, methodical, task-focused behavior.


Conscientiousness can be broken down into two sub-traits (DeYoung, 2016):

  • Industriousness, which refers to the ability to suppress disruptive impulses and pursue non-immediate goals
  • Orderliness, which refers to the ability to adopt and follow rules (either self-imposed or imposed by others).


These aspects of conscientiousness often make it the best psychological predictor of career success, health, and longevity after intelligence. Naturally, researchers have done a lot of work to find out which genetic and environmental factors lead to high conscientiousness.

Neural networks

Your brain has billions of neurons, and many of these neurons are connected in an observable pathway, serving a specific purpose. We call these pathways neural networks.


High Conscientiousness has been linked to a greater connectivity between several neural networks in the brain:

The cognitive control network controls your executive functions- attention, planning, working memory, and social behavior.

The salience network primarily decides which things you pay attention to and which things you ignore.

The prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a key part of the cognitive control network, and it has a significant impact on Conscientiousness.


Some studies have shown a positive association between volumes of certain regions within the PFC and Conscientiousness - meaning people with higher Conscientiousness are likely to have a slightly larger prefrontal cortex than others.

Conscientiousness, like other traits, is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Encouragingly, conscientiousness increases for many people as they grow older.

Next, we'll go over the neurobiological causes of Extraversion.

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