Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Affective Personality Differences in Neural Processing Efficiency Confirmed Using fMRI

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Affective Personality Differences in Neural Processing Efficiency Confirmed Using fMRI

Article excerpt

To test for a relation between individual differences in personality and neural-processing efficiency, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess brain activity within regions associated with cognitive control during a demanding working memory task. Fifty-three participants completed both the self-report behavioral inhibition sensitivity (BIS) and behavioral approach sensitivity (BAS) personality scales and a standard measure of fluid intelligence (Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices). They were then scanned as they performed a three-back working memory task. A mixed blocked/ event-related fMRI design enabled us to identify both sustained and transient neural activity. Higher BAS was negatively related to event-related activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, the lateral prefrontal cortex, and parietal areas in regions of interest identified in previous work. These relationships were not explained by differences in either behavioral performance or fluid intelligence, consistent with greater neural efficiency. The results reveal the high specificity of the relationships among personality, cognition, and brain activity. The data confirm that affective dimensions of personality are independent of intelligence, yet also suggest that they might be interrelated in subtle ways, because they modulate activity in overlapping brain regions that appear to be critical for task performance.

Some important aspects of the human psyche are consistently revealed in brain function, but not in overt behavior (Wilkinson & Halligan, 2004). The central focus of this article is one such endophenotype-namely, neural-processing efficiency, or the relative ease with which someone performs a given information-processing task. Individuals who need to exert greater mental effort to perform a task or compensate for stressful circumstances (Hockey, 1997) can be said to have lower efficiency. The key individual differences may not be revealed in overt behavior (performance), despite real and important differences in the facility with which that performance level is achieved (i.e., efficiency). Relatedly, one function of the prefrontal cortex may be to exert compensatory control over behavior when additional demands are imposed (Braver et al., 1997; Bunge, Klingberg, Jacobsen, & Gabrieli, 2000). In this research, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study individual differences in personality, compensatory control, and neural efficiency during a cognitive load.

M. W. Eysenck and CaIvo (1992) elaborated the idea of cognitive-processing efficiency, doing so to account for exceptions in the literature on the effects of trait anxiety on performance. Anxious individuals often have lower performance (especially on difficult tasks), but not always. Why should there be exceptions? M. W. Eysenck and Calvo drew a key distinction between performance effectiveness and processing efficiency. Effectiveness refers to an objectively measurable level of performance, such as the percentage of questions answered correctly on a test. Efficiency refers to the ratio between effectiveness and the amount of effort needed to attain the criterion level of performance. According to M. W. Eysenck and Calvo, anxiety impairs processing efficiency more than it impairs performance effectiveness, thereby leaving open whether performance is actually impaired or not on a given occasion. High-anxious individuals are hypothesized to be less efficient but can compensate by expending additional effort on the task. This hypothesis holds considerable explanatory potential. A practical difficulty with testing the cognitive-processing efficiency model, however, is that one of its central constructs, mental effort, cannot be measured directly in behavioral performance. To overcome the difficulty, one possibility is to use physiological indicators of effort (M. W. Eysenck & CaIvo, 1992; Fairclough & Houston, 2004; J. R. Gray & Braver, 2002). …

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