Little evidence for associations between the Big Five personality traits and variability in brain gray or white matter

Reut Avinun*, Salomon Israel, Annchen R. Knodt, Ahmad R. Hariri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations

Abstract

Attempts to link the Big Five personality traits of Openness-to-Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism with variability in trait-like features of brain structure have produced inconsistent results. Small sample sizes and heterogeneous methodology have been suspected in driving these inconsistencies. Here, using data collected from 1,107 university students (636 women, mean age 19.69 ​± ​1.24 years), representing the largest sample to date of unrelated individuals, we tested for associations between the Big Five personality traits and measures of cortical thickness and surface area, subcortical volume, and white matter microstructural integrity. In addition to replication analyses based on a prior study, we conducted exploratory whole-brain analyses. Four supplementary analyses were also conducted to examine 1) possible associations with lower-order facets of personality; 2) modulatory effects of sex; 3) effect of controlling for non-target personality traits; and 4) parcellation scheme effects. Our analyses failed to identify significant associations between the Big Five personality traits and brain morphometry, except for a weak association between greater surface area of the superior temporal gyrus and lower conscientiousness scores. As the latter association is not supported by previous studies, it should be treated with caution. Our supplementary analyses mirrored these predominantly null findings, suggesting they were not substantively biased by our analytic choices. Collectively, these results indicate that if there are associations between the Big Five personality traits and brain structure, they are likely of very small effect size and will require very large samples for reliable detection.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number117092
JournalNeuroImage
Volume220
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors

Keywords

  • Brain structure
  • DTI
  • MRI
  • Personality
  • Replication
  • Reproducibility
  • Traits

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