From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published January 21, 2013 09:11 AM

How Personality Can Help Us Understand Our Decisions, Improve Our Health, and Evaluate Mental Health Care

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Extraverts tend to be outgoing, talkative and have energetic behavior whereas introverts are more reserved, quiet and are more shy. However, according to a new study, extraversion does not just explain our personalities and how we interact with others, but it can also influence how the brain makes choices.

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In one study, researchers asked people whether they would prefer a smaller immediate reward or a larger delayed reward (either $15 on the day of the study, or $25 to be received three weeks later). Researchers then correlated the peoples' choices and brain activity to various personality traits.

Researchers found that the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the brain, was responsible for evaluating rewards and this region responded more strongly to the possibility of immediate rewards.

Colin DeYoung of the University of Minnesota, who worked on the study says: "Understanding how people differ from each other and how that affects various outcomes is something that we all do on an intuitive basis, but personality psychology attempts to bring scientific rigor to this process. Personality affects academic and job performance, social and political attitudes, the quality and stability of social relationships, physical health and mortality, and risk for mental disorder."

Researchers are also finding that health is not only a result of genetic and environmental factors, but also of changeable personality characteristics.

In a separate study, researchers found that children lower in conscientiousness (traits that include being irresponsible and careless) had worse health later in life, including obesity and higher cholesterol.

After analyzing 2,000 elementary school children that received personality assessments in the 1960s, results of the test subjects 40 years later reveal that the children who were rated by their teachers as less conscientious had worse health statuses as adults.

The results of this study could lead to childhood interventions. Sarah Hampson of the Oregon Research Institute who took part in this research says: "Parents and schools shape personality, and this is our opportunity to support the development of conscientiousness — planfulness, ability to delay gratification, self-control." She adds: "Society depends on such pro-social, self-regulated behavior."

With progress being made in the neuroscience field, linking brain functions to understand personality is a positive step in understanding how the brain makes us who we are, explains DeYoung.

Researchers presented their findings titled "Contributions of Personality to Health, Biological and Clinical Psychology" last week in New Orleans.

Learn more at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

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