, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 182-190

Affective personality differences in neural processing efficiency confirmed using fMRI


To test for a relation between individual differences in personality and neural-processing efficiency, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess brain activity within regions associated with cognitive control during a demanding working memory task. Fifty-three participants completed both the self-report behavioral inhibition sensitivity (BIS) and behavioral approach sensitivity (BAS) personality scales and a standard measure of fluid intelligence (Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices). They were then scanned as they performed a three-back working memory task. A mixed blocked/ event-related fMRI design enabled us to identify both sustained and transient neural activity. Higher BAS was negatively related to event-related activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate, the lateral prefrontal cortex, and parietal areas in regions of interest identified in previous work. These relationships were not explained by differences in either behavioral performance or fluid intelligence, consistent with greater neural efficiency. The results reveal the high specificity of the relationships among personality, cognition, and brain activity. The data confirm that affective dimensions of personality are independent of intelligence, yet also suggest that they might be interrelated in subtle ways, because they modulate activity in overlapping brain regions that appear to be critical for task performance.

The research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Some of these data have been published in abstract form (J. R. Gray & G. C. Burgess, Journal of Research in Personality, 2004, 38, 35–36) and in a full report (J. R. Gray, C. F. Chabris, & T. S. Braver, 2003, Nature Neuroscience, 6, 316–322).