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MRIs Reveal It’s Smart To Be Conscientious

May 4, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Here’s something else for neurotic people to worry about: being less neurotic and more conscientious may be good for your brain as you grow older.

Or maybe brain degeneration as you age might make you less conscientious and more neurotic.

Either way, psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis have found evidence that personality and brain aging may be linked. Their research indicates a possible early warning sign of later dementia.

The researchers collected personality and demographic data for 79 healthy volunteers between ages 44 and 88. MRI images revealed smaller volumes of gray matter in the frontal and medial temporal brain regions of the subjects who ranked high in neuroticism traits compared with the same brain areas of those who ranked high in conscientious traits.

Denise Head, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University and one of the study’s coauthors, said:

Our data clearly show an association between personality and brain volume, particularly in brain regions associated with emotional and social processing. This could be interpreted that personality may influence the rate of brain aging.

Or, Dr. Head acknowledged, it could be the other way around—that changes in the aging brain affect personality.

“Right now, we can’t disentangle those two,” she said, “but we plan to in the future by conducting ongoing studies of the volunteers over time to note future structural changes.”

Dr. Head’s graduate student Jonathan Jackson was first author of a paper on the study that was published in Neurobiology of Aging. Animal studies, he noted, suggest that chronic stress has negative effects on the brain. The researchers wondered whether the same might hold true for older adults.

“We really focused on the prefrontal and medial temporal regions because they are the regions where you see the greatest age changes,” Jackson said, “and they are also seats of attention, emotion, and memory. We found that more-neurotic individuals had smaller volumes in certain prefrontal and medial temporal parts of the brain than those who were less neurotic, and the opposite pattern was found with conscientiousness.”

The study’s subjects were drawn from control participants at Washington University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC)—meaning that their brains were healthy.

Research at the ADRC and elsewhere has been suggesting that those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease tend to become more neurotic and less conscientious. “We know that there are degenerative processes going on before the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s,” Jackson said. “We want to be able to see if the subtle personality changes might be particular to an early clinical picture and possibly see if one can predict who will become demented based on personality changes.”

Or, Dr. Head said, neurotic tendencies might make one more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s or other diseases associated with aging.

The findings certainly pose intriguing questions. Said Dr. Head: “We will continue to pursue the relationship between personality and brain structure as one of the earlier processes in Alzheimer’s and hence a possible risk factor.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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One Response to “MRIs Reveal It’s Smart To Be Conscientious”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » MRIs Reveal It's Smart To Be … college university on May 4th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    […] original post here:  Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » MRIs Reveal It's Smart To Be … By admin | category: WASHINGTON University In St. Louis | tags: boston, complete-general, […]