Personality Traits

By Gerald Matthews; Ian J. Deary et al. | Go to book overview

7
The psychophysiology of traits

Introduction: neuropsychological
approaches to personality

In this chapter we discuss the hypothesis that personality is an expression of individual differences in brain function. There are several reasons for linking personality traits to neural systems. First, there is the evidence from behaviour genetics discussed in the last chapter. If personality traits are partially inherited, then there must necessarily be a biological influence on traits, encoded within the person's DNA. Of course, the influence of the genotype on brain physiology is likely to be influenced by interaction with the environment. Second, there is striking evidence for radical personality change resulting from brain damage (see Powell, 1981; and Zuckerman, 1991, 1999 for reviews). Damage to the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex is notorious for disruption of personality; the person may become unstable, impulsive and even aggressive (depending on the exact region damaged). Third, there is evidence that traits correlate with psychophysiological indicators of brain functioning, such as the electrical activity of the brain and the increase in heart rate when the person is exposed to stress. Such observations suggest that we might develop neuropsychological theories of personality traits. Such theories should describe how individual differences in the functioning of specific brain systems influence individual differences in behaviour.

However, there are various difficulties involved in building a neuropsychological theory of personality traits. First, the complexity of the task is daunting. Personality may be related to a multitude of different brain structures, ranging from primitive systems controlling wakefulness and alertness (in the brainstem) to systems for higher cognitive functions such as language and thought (in the neocortex). Typically, researchers attempt to simplify the problem by picking out some key brain systems for special attention. Second, the empirical evidence may be correlational and open to different interpretations. Psychophysiological response and higherorder cognition are closely linked. For example, if you are driving to the airport and you recall that you left a fire burning in your house, you will probably experience physiological arousal responses such as a racing heart: the thought precedes the response. In other words, physiological response reflects both a direct output of unconscious, low-level neural processes and high-level thought. If we find a correlation between neuroticism and cardiac response to stress, we then have two

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Personality Traits
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Figures x
  • Tables xiii
  • Boxes xvi
  • Preface to the First Edition xix
  • Preface to the Second Edition xxiii
  • I - The Nature of Personality Traits 1
  • 1 - The Trait Concept and Personality Theory 3
  • 2 - Persons, Situations and Interactionism 39
  • 3 - Personality Across the Life Span 58
  • 4 - Stable Traits and Transient States 77
  • 5 - Alternatives to Trait Theory 112
  • II - Causes of Personality Traits 133
  • 6 - Genes, Environments and Personality Traits 135
  • 7 - The Psychophysiology of Traits 166
  • 8 - The Social Psychology of Traits 204
  • III - Consequences and Applications 239
  • 9 - Stress 241
  • 10 - Traits and Health 273
  • 11 - Abnormal Personality Traits? 294
  • 12 - Personality, Performance and Information-Processing 325
  • 13 - Applications of Personality Assessment 357
  • 14 - Conclusions 391
  • References 411
  • Author Index 482
  • Subject Index 487
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