Friday, September 30, 2011

Dominant personality may be hardcoded in the brain

A study with dominant and subordinate mice suggests that personality traits making one a social leader are likely to be hardcoded in the brain. Researchers of the Chinese Academy of Science discovered that a certain part of the brain, when put in an active state, causes animals to behave in a more dominant way. Moreover, when the researchers silenced this brain area, mice were found to be much less dominant than before. Their discovery is yet another link between brain activity and correspondent behaviour, teaching us more about how our brain is a foundation for the personality we develop during life.
The brain area that is responsible for making your personality more dominant is called the medial prefrontal cortex, part of the brain area that we use for cognitive processes. Mice also possess this brain area, and the Chinese researchers tried to activate it by inserting a gene in neurons, the brain cells, of mice. This causes increased communication between neurons, by amplifying the required electrical signals. After activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, mice were found to be much more dominant when they were put in an experiment that shows personality.

It remains questionable whether the results in mice can be directly translated to humans. Our brains are much more sophisticated than those in mice. Especially for complex behaviour, like social dominance, it is to be expected that humans will not be profoundly changed simply by activating or inhibiting a specific area in the brain. In addition, turning certain areas on and off could have side-effects due to our complex brain. Nevertheless, this elegant experiment showed a clear-cut relationship between activity of a brain area and corresponding behaviour. This discovery gives rise to studies in humans where social status is measured in combination with activity of the medial prefrontal cortex. We can also find out how much a dominant personality is affected by our nature as compared to our nurture.

I wonder if we will be to choose our own personality in the future, simply by activating or inhibiting parts of the brain.

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