Prefer the personality or the appearance of the brain

27.12.2017 10:02

Cold and emotionless personality traits show up in the brain structure of boys

Reto Caluori Communication & Marketing
University of Basel

In boys, cool and unemotional personality traits are associated with structural changes in the brain, but not in girls. This is shown by a European research team led by the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Clinics of Basel in a study on brain development in 189 adolescents. The journal “Neuro Image Clinical” has published the results.

Cool and unemotional personality traits can pose a risk for impaired development of empathy and conscience development. Children and adolescents react less to emotional stimuli in their environment, they often prefer dangerous activities in which they show less caution or fearfulness. Researchers and doctors have paid increased attention to such personality traits in recent years, as they are associated with the development of behavioral disorders.

To date, research results have mainly been limited to clinical samples. Adolescents with a psychiatric disorder often also suffer from other disorders, such as anxiety or attention disorders. So far it has therefore been unclear whether the connections between brain structure and brain function can be traced back to cool, unemotional personality traits or to concomitant diseases.

With the help of magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers were able to take a closer look at the brain development of healthy adolescents. She was particularly interested in whether cool and unemotional personality traits can be recognized by changes in the brain structure. In particular, the scientists wanted to find out whether there are any differences between boys and girls.

Changed brain structure only in boys

The results show that boys with cool and unemotional personality traits show changes in the front part of the insular cortex - a brain structure that is responsible for processing emotions and empathy. The connection could not be proven for girls. It is particularly interesting that such structural features of the brain were recognizable even though none of the test subjects fulfilled symptoms of a clinical diagnosis (e.g. disorder of social behavior).

"Our results show that changes in the brain as a result of cool and emotionless personality traits can also be recognized in healthy boys," explains first author Nora Maria Raschle from the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Clinics of Basel. "In the next step, we want to find out which trigger causes some of these children and adolescents to later develop psychopathology, while others never become noticeable."

The study is part of the FemNat CD project, a Europe-wide research project that deals with the causes and therapy of rule-breaking and aggressive behavior in girls with behavioral disorders.

Original contribution

Nora Maria Raschle et al. Callous-unemotional traits and brain structure: Sex-specific effects in anterior insula of typically-developing youths
Neuro Image: Clinical (2018) | doi: 10.1016 / j.nicl.2017.12.015

Further information

Dr. Nora Maria Raschle, University of Basel, University Psychiatric Clinics Basel, Tel. +41 61 265 89 75; Email: [email protected]

Additional Information:

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Features of this press release:
Medicine, psychology
Research results, scientific publications