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A recent paper from Andreas Heinz and colleagues (doi: 10.1038/nn2222) provides more neuroimaging evidence in humans for a a circuit that regulates our responsivity to stimuli that evoke emotional responses. The basic circuitry involves the amygdala (a place in the brain where emotional memories are registered), the prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain that is involved in making decisions and assessing threats) and the cingulate cortex (a place in the brain where expectations are compared to sensory inputs & outgoing responses). These 3 brain regions are interconnected in a loop through various synaptic contacts and the responsivity of these synapses can be modulated by neuomodulators such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. It turns out, that several neuroimaging studies have begun to demonstrate that this (relatively) simple circuitry underlies human personality and temperament. In the Heinz study, the level of dopamine that was released into the amygdala was correlated with levels of functional activation to emotional stimuli as well as a dimension of temperament known as negative affect.
I recall once having taken the Meyers-Briggs assessment in graduate school and had a blast comparing my results with my wife – who was almost my polar opposite. Now, the latest neuroimaging and imaging-genetic research has begun to explain the complexities of human personality in basic neural circuitry where genes such as 5HTT and MAOA ‘turn up’ or turn down’ the gain on various synaptic contacts in this circuit – leading to the immense, yet systematic variation in personality and temperament that makes our social lives so interesting. As I navigate my way through marriage and parenthood, I’m often glad I took the personality test with my wife many years ago. It always helps to see things from the other person’s perspective. Now, as she obtains her 23andMe profile, perhaps we will begin to compare our genomes together – the ultimate form of marriage counseling !! Click here for more personality tests.