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Brain may make you a 'people person'

Scientists have found that a greater concentration of tissue in certain areas of the brain may make us more warm and sentimental

Scientists at Cambridge University in the UK have found that a greater concentration of tissue in certain areas of the brain may make us more warm and sentimental – more of a 'people person'. 

People who scored "warm and fuzzy" on the questionnaires had more brain tissue in the orbitofrontal cortex – the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes – and in a deep structure in the centre of the brain called the ventrial striatum, the study found.

The research could also lead to new insights into psychiatric disorders such as autism  or schizophrenia, where difficulties in social interaction are involved.

"Patients with certain psychiatric conditions often experience difficulties in feeling emotional closeness, and this can have a big impact on their life. It could be that the cause of these difficulties is at least partly due to brain structural features of those disorders," said Dr Murray.

The researchers, who collaborated with a team at Oulu University in Finland, used questionnaires to help measure the relationship between personality and brain structure in 41 men. Brain scans were used to analyse the concentration of grey matter (tissue rich in neurons) in different regions.

Dr Graham Murray, who is funded by the Medical Research Council and who led the research, said: "Sociability and emotional warmth are very complex features of our personality. This research helps us understand at a biological level why people differ in the degrees to which we express those traits."

But he cautioned, "As this research is only correlational and cross-sectional, it cannot prove that brain structure determines personality. It could even be that your personality, through experience, helps in part to determine your brain structure."

Interestingly, the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum have previously been shown to be important for the brain's processing of much simpler rewards like sweet tastes or sexual stimuli.

The study is reported in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

20th May 2009

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