Personality Neuroscience #3: Goals & methods

This is Part 3 of our series on Personality Neuroscience. Click here to read from the beginning.

 

The ancient study of personality relied on intuition and observation, and it certainly got some of the core ideas right.

However, 21st-century advances in brain scanning technology and molecular genetics have allowed us to start learning about the underlying biological causes of personality differences. This new field is called personality neuroscience.

Personality neuroscience has two goals (DeYoung, 2016):

1. Understand the mechanisms of the brain that influence personality.

2. Understand how both genetic and environmental forces create these mechanisms.

To accomplish these goals, psychologists and neuroscientists conduct research with a variety of tools, some new and some old…

Personality Assessments

big-five

The Five Factor Model (the “Big Five”) has emerged as the mostscientifically validated personality model, with 5 dimensions that can be measured independently:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

With that relatively new consensus, researchers now have a standardized foundation to study both the causes and effects of personality differences.

disc-1

Assessments like DISC and the Interpersonal Circumplexorganize these traits in a way that helps us understand relationships between people. These models are validated by the Five Factor Model, but they only correlate to the 3 traits that are interpersonal in nature - Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

Behavioral & Cognitive Tasks

Personality questionnaires have limitations. They rely on self and peer-assessment, so they are naturally susceptible to manipulation and inconsistency.

testing

To get around this, researchers sometimes observe a subject’s responses to images, video, smell, and other stimuli (frequently used in other kinds of psychological experiments).

marshmellow

To measure the results of some kind of these stimuli on the brain, researchers rely on…

Brain scanning technologies

Modern brain scanning technologies allow us to observe the structure, activity, and function of the brain at a very detailed level.

eeg

EEG (electroencephalography) tells us about the electrical activity in your brain.

mri

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) creates images of your brain based on its magnetic properties.

fmri-1

fMRI (functional MRI) tells you which parts of the brain are most active based on blood flow and oxygen use.

Molecular genetic studies

Everyone’s brain has the same structures and systems, for the most part. However, slight variations in these structures and systems can create large variations in personality.

Your DNA has the blueprint for your brain’s construction, so subsequently, it may hold tons of information about the parts of your personality that you inherited.

There are two types of genetic studies used in personality neuroscience…

dna

Candidate gene studies seek to understand how a specific gene impacts a specific personality trait.

genome

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) scan the entire genome to find personality variations.

Genetic research is a massive field in itself, and personality research makes up a tiny sliver of it. However, it has already contributed some pretty interesting data and is rapidly picking up steam.

Good old-fashioned statistics

Studies in personality neuroscience look for statistically significant correlations between in brain structure/activity and individual personality traits when they conduct experiments.

correlations

These correlations help us understand the positive and negative differences between personality traits and models.

bell-curve

Personality traits usually exist on a Bell Curve (or a “normal distribution”), which means most people are close to the average for a particular trait, but some people exist on the extremes.

overlapping-bell-curves

Overlapping bell curves are used to display broad personality differences across multiple populations. They’ve been known to cause controversy at times.

Each of these tools has a specific purpose in personality neuroscience and they all have different costs associated with them. For example, you can take a free Big Five assessment on any number of websites, but a single MRI scan can cost thousands of dollars.

It’s important to note that personality neuroscience is still very young, so many of its early findings are preliminary in nature and are not yet well-supported enough to be considered fact. However, researchers have been able to make a lot of progress in understanding how our brains influence our natural behaviors.

In the next post, we'll start getting into those specific ways that your brain can influence your personality.

Want to learn about your personality
and what comes naturally to you?

Free Personality Test
Recommended posts
Personality Tests
Best Enneagram Test: 2020
With so many Enneagram tests out there, it can be overwhelming to find the best one for you. To make it easier to find your Enneagram type, we’ve compiled a list of the 6 best Enneagram tests online.
(read more)
Personality Tests
Best Personality Test: 2019
With so many personality tests out there, it can feel a bit overwhelming to start on the journey to better understanding yourself.
(read more)
Personality AI
The Personality Behind WeWork's Downfall
At the start of 2019, WeWork was on top of the world. It was valued at nearly $47 billion and crowned one of the fastest growing, most valuable startups in recent history. It’s founder and CEO, Adam Neumann, was soaring as well, preparing to take his co-working empire public, which would make him a billionaire several times over. The company was growing at a historically rapid pace, doubling over the last year to over half a million members renting desks at WeWork locations in 111 cities globally. Revenues were compounding as well, on track to surpass $3 billion at the end of the year. 
(read more)
personality
Big Five vs 16-Personality
Personality assessments seem to be all the rage lately. Instagram accounts, Subreddits, and Facebook groups centered around different personality types have all formed and they’re gaining plenty of traction.
(read more)
Hobbies
Hobbies for Your DISC Type
I was recently reminded of the excitement of my childhood after-school activities when I passed by a group of four-foot-tall seven-year-olds kicking a soccer ball back and forth in the park.
(read more)
personality
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex: How Personality Affected Her Relationship with the Press
The war on Meghan’s personality by the British tabloids has been one of the main tensions in the Sussex family for the last few years. It is what led them to sue the DailyMail in October of 2019 and, ultimately, leave the Royal Family in January of 2020. 
(read more)
personality
Which Parks and Rec Character Are You?
Over the course of its 7 season run, Parks and Rec (recreation) became a major hit.
(read more)
psychology
Nature vs Nurture
From the time we’re children, we begin to question why we act in certain ways. The older we get, the more serious those questions become.
(read more)