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Neural Correlates of Four Broad Temperament Dimensions: Testing Predictions for a Novel Construct of Personality

Four suites of behavioral traits have been associated with four broad neural systems: the 1) dopamine and related norepinephrine system; 2) serotonin; 3) testosterone; 4) and estrogen and oxytocin system. A 56-item questionnaire, the Fisher Temperament Inventory (FTI), was developed to define four temperament dimensions associated with these behavioral traits and neural systems. The questionnaire has been used to suggest romantic partner compatibility. The dimensions were named: Curious/Energetic; Cautious/Social Norm Compliant; Analytical/Tough-minded; and Prosocial/Empathetic. For the present study, the FTI was administered to participants in two functional magnetic resonance imaging studies that elicited feelings of love and attachment, near-universal human experiences. Scores for the Curious/Energetic dimension co-varied with activation in a region of the substantia nigra, consistent with the prediction that this dimension reflects activity in the dopamine system. Scores for the Cautious/Social Norm Compliant dimension correlated with activation in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in regions associated with social norm compliance, a trait linked with the serotonin system. Scores on the Analytical/Tough-minded scale co-varied with activity in regions of the occipital and parietal cortices associated with visual acuity and mathematical thinking, traits linked with testosterone. Also, testosterone contributes to brain architecture in these areas. Scores on the Prosocial/Empathetic scale correlated with activity in regions of the inferior frontal gyrus, anterior insula and fusiform gyrus. These are regions associated with mirror neurons or empathy, a trait linked with the estrogen/oxytocin system, and where estrogen contributes to brain architecture. These findings, replicated across two studies, suggest that the FTI measures influences of four broad neural systems, and that these temperament dimensions and neural systems could constitute foundational mechanisms in personality structure and play a role in romantic partnerships.