The University Center for Functional MRI of the Brain at Oxford University has unveiled a very interesting connection between the brain activities of 461 individuals and compared their behavior and personality traits. What they found in the investigation is that there is a link between brain connectivity and an individual's personality traits, especially those that lead to classically positive lives and behaviors. They also checked those that are considered classically negative. The findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.
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The team collected the data from the Human Connectome Project, otherwise known as the HCP, which is a $30 million brain imaging study run by the US National Institute of Health in conjunction with Washington, Minnesota, and Oxford Universities. The study took data from 1,200 healthy participants and compared the information collected on tests and questionnaires. “The quality of the imaging data is really unprecedented,” explains Professor Stephen Smith, who was the lead author of the paper. “Not only is the number of subjects we get to study large, but the spatial and temporal resolution of the fMRI data is way ahead of previous large datasets.”
So far there has been data released for about 500 of the subjects.
The team from Oxford took the data from exactly 461 scans and created a map of the brain's processes to scan across the participants. “You can think of it as a population-average map of 200 regions across the brain that are functionally distinct from each other,” explains Professor Smith. “Then, we looked at how much all of those regions communicated with each other, in every participant.”
The result was that they had a map they could look over and trace the connections. They plotted 200 brain regions for comparison and 280 different behavioral and demographic measures for each subject to perform a "canonical correlation analysis" between the two data sets. What they found was a strong correlation between specific variations of the connections. The correlation occurs more often in the traits that most people deem to be positive, like having a large vocabulary, being happier, attaining more income, and going further in schooling. There was also a slight correlation between those who experience anger, substance abuse, and poor sleep.
The researchers believe that their results mimic what many psychologists refer to as "the general intelligence g-factor" which was discovered in 1904 and that is still used today to some extent. Those who study the g-factor say that intelligence and personality are closely linked, so it is to be believed that if you are likely a happy person, you get more out of life. However, those who don't believe in the g-factor believe that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
“It may be that with hundreds of different brain circuits, the tests that are used to measure cognitive ability actually make use of different sets of overlapping circuits,” explains Professor Smith. “We hope that by looking at brain imaging data we’ll be able to relate connections in the brain to the specific measures, and work out what these kinds of test actually require the brain to do.”
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The team plans to do more research as more information is made available to them.