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Concept: Personality psychology


Psychopathy is a personality disorder associated with a profound lack of empathy. Neuroscientists have associated empathy and its interindividual variation with how strongly participants activate brain regions involved in their own actions, emotions and sensations while viewing those of others. Here we compared brain activity of 18 psychopathic offenders with 26 control subjects while viewing video clips of emotional hand interactions and while experiencing similar interactions. Brain regions involved in experiencing these interactions were not spontaneously activated as strongly in the patient group while viewing the video clips. However, this group difference was markedly reduced when we specifically instructed participants to feel with the actors in the videos. Our results suggest that psychopathy is not a simple incapacity for vicarious activations but rather reduced spontaneous vicarious activations co-existing with relatively normal deliberate counterparts.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Mental disorder, Emotion, Personality disorder, Antisocial personality disorder, Conduct disorder, Personality disorders


Rorschach inkblots have had a striking impact on the worlds of art and science because of the remarkable variety of associations with recognizable and namable objects they induce. Originally adopted as a projective psychological tool to probe mental health, psychologists and artists have more recently interpreted the variety of induced images simply as a signature of the observers' creativity. Here we analyze the relationship between the spatial scaling parameters of the inkblot patterns and the number of induced associations, and suggest that the perceived images are induced by the fractal characteristics of the blot edges. We discuss how this relationship explains the frequent observation of images in natural scenery.

Concepts: Psychology, Mathematics, Personality psychology, Pareidolia, Psychodiagnostik


Facial expressions are important for humans in communicating emotions to the conspecifics and enhancing interpersonal understanding. Many muscles producing facial expressions in humans are also found in domestic dogs, but little is known about how humans perceive dog facial expressions, and which psychological factors influence people’s perceptions. Here, we asked 34 observers to rate the valence, arousal, and the six basic emotions (happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear, and anger/aggressiveness) from images of human and dog faces with Pleasant, Neutral and Threatening expressions. We investigated how the subjects' personality (the Big Five Inventory), empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index) and experience of dog behavior affect the ratings of dog and human faces. Ratings of both species followed similar general patterns: human subjects classified dog facial expressions from pleasant to threatening very similarly to human facial expressions. Subjects with higher emotional empathy evaluated Threatening faces of both species as more negative in valence and higher in anger/aggressiveness. More empathetic subjects also rated the happiness of Pleasant humans but not dogs higher, and they were quicker in their valence judgments of Pleasant human, Threatening human and Threatening dog faces. Experience with dogs correlated positively with ratings of Pleasant and Neutral dog faces. Personality also had a minor effect on the ratings of Pleasant and Neutral faces in both species. The results imply that humans perceive human and dog facial expression in a similar manner, and the perception of both species is influenced by psychological factors of the evaluators. Especially empathy affects both the speed and intensity of rating dogs' emotional facial expressions.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Perception, Empathy, Emotion, Paul Ekman, Dog, Facial expression


We examined parent-child relationship quality and positive mental well-being using Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development data. Well-being was measured at ages 13-15 (teacher-rated happiness), 36 (life satisfaction), 43 (satisfaction with home and family life) and 60-64 years (Diener Satisfaction With Life scale and Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well-being scale). The Parental Bonding Instrument captured perceived care and control from the father and mother to age 16, recalled by study members at age 43. Greater well-being was seen for offspring with higher combined parental care and lower combined parental psychological control (p < 0.05 at all ages). Controlling for maternal care and paternal and maternal behavioural and psychological control, childhood social class, parental separation, mother's neuroticism and study member's personality, higher well-being was consistently related to paternal care. This suggests that both mother-child and father-child relationships may have short and long-term consequences for positive mental well-being.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Parent, Mental health, Maternal bond, Mother, Father, Human Development Index


In two studies, we investigated how bitter taste preferences might be associated with antisocial personality traits. Two US American community samples (total N = 953; mean age = 35.65 years; 48% females) self-reported their taste preferences using two complementary preference measures and answered a number of personality questionnaires assessing Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, everyday sadism, trait aggression, and the Big Five factors of personality. The results of both studies confirmed the hypothesis that bitter taste preferences are positively associated with malevolent personality traits, with the most robust relation to everyday sadism and psychopathy. Regression analyses confirmed that this association holds when controlling for sweet, sour, and salty taste preferences and that bitter taste preferences are the overall strongest predictor compared to the other taste preferences. The data thereby provide novel insights into the relationship between personality and the ubiquitous behaviors of eating and drinking by consistently demonstrating a robust relation between increased enjoyment of bitter foods and heightened sadistic proclivities.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Taste, Preference, Neuroticism, Antisocial personality disorder, Big Five personality traits, Narcissistic personality disorder


When people see a life-sized virtual body (VB) from first person perspective in virtual reality they are likely to have the perceptual illusion that it is their body. Additionally such virtual embodiment can lead to changes in perception, implicit attitudes and behaviour based on attributes of the VB. To date the changes that have been studied are as a result of being embodied in a body representative of particular social groups (e.g., children and other race). In our experiment participants alternately switched between a VB closely resembling themselves where they described a personal problem, and a VB representing Dr Sigmund Freud, from which they offered themselves counselling. Here we show that when the counsellor resembles Freud participants improve their mood, compared to the counsellor being a self-representation. The improvement was greater when the Freud VB moved synchronously with the participant, compared to asynchronously. Synchronous VB movement was associated with a much stronger illusion of ownership over the Freud body. This suggests that this form of embodied perspective taking can lead to sufficient detachment from habitual ways of thinking about personal problems, so as to improve the outcome, and demonstrates the power of virtual body ownership to effect cognitive changes.

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Perception, Sense, Mind, Grammatical person, Sigmund Freud, Illusion


This study examined the long-standing question of whether a person’s position among siblings has a lasting impact on that person’s life course. Empirical research on the relation between birth order and intelligence has convincingly documented that performances on psychometric intelligence tests decline slightly from firstborns to later-borns. By contrast, the search for birth-order effects on personality has not yet resulted in conclusive findings. We used data from three large national panels from the United States (n = 5,240), Great Britain (n = 4,489), and Germany (n = 10,457) to resolve this open research question. This database allowed us to identify even very small effects of birth order on personality with sufficiently high statistical power and to investigate whether effects emerge across different samples. We furthermore used two different analytical strategies by comparing siblings with different birth-order positions (i) within the same family (within-family design) and (ii) between different families (between-family design). In our analyses, we confirmed the expected birth-order effect on intelligence. We also observed a significant decline of a 10th of a SD in self-reported intellect with increasing birth-order position, and this effect persisted after controlling for objectively measured intelligence. Most important, however, we consistently found no birth-order effects on extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, or imagination. On the basis of the high statistical power and the consistent results across samples and analytical designs, we must conclude that birth order does not have a lasting effect on broad personality traits outside of the intellectual domain.

Concepts: Personality psychology, Research, Psychometrics, General intelligence factor, Intelligence quotient, Intelligence, Big Five personality traits, Flynn effect


Geek culture is a subculture of enthusiasts that is traditionally associated with obscure media (Japanese animation, science fiction, video games, etc.). However, geek culture is becoming increasingly mainstream; for example, in the past year alone, Dragon*Con, a major Geek convention in Atlanta, Georgia, attracted an attendance of over 57,000 members. The present article uses an individual differences approach to examine three theoretical accounts of geek culture. Seven studies (N = 2354) develop the Geek Culture Engagement Scale (GCES) to quantify geek engagement and assess its relationships to theoretically relevant personality and individual differences variables. These studies present evidence that individuals may engage in geek culture in order to maintain narcissistic self-views (the great fantasy migration hypothesis), to fulfill belongingness needs (the belongingness hypothesis), and to satisfy needs for creative expression (the need for engagement hypothesis). Geek engagement is found to be associated with elevated grandiose narcissism, extraversion, openness to experience, depression, and subjective well-being across multiple samples. These data lay the groundwork for further exploration of geek culture as well as provide a foundation for examining other forms of subculture participation.

Concepts: Personality psychology, Cultural studies, Individualism, Openness to experience, Popular culture


Cognitive or intellectual investment theories propose that the development of intelligence is partially influenced by personality traits, in particular by so-called investment traits that determine when, where, and how people invest their time and effort in their intellect. This investment, in turn, is thought to contribute to individual differences in cognitive growth and the accumulation of knowledge across the life span. We reviewed the psychological literature and identified 34 trait constructs and corresponding scales that refer to intellectual investment. The dispositional constructs were further classified into 8 related trait categories that span the construct space of intellectual investment. Subsequently, we sought to estimate the association between the identified investment traits and indicators of adult intellect, including measures of crystallized intelligence, academic performance (e.g., grade point average), college entry tests, and acquired knowledge. A meta-analysis of 112 studies with 236 coefficients and an overall sample of 60,097 participants indicated that investment traits were mostly positively associated with adult intellect markers. Meta-analytic coefficients ranged considerably, from 0 to .58, with an average estimate of .30. We concluded that investment traits are overall positively related to adult intellect; the strength of investment-intellect associations differs across trait scales and markers of intellect; and investment traits have a diverse, multifaceted nature. The meta-analysis also identified areas of inquiry that are currently lacking in empirical research. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Psychology, Personality psychology, Educational psychology, Intelligence, All rights reserved, Trait theory, Raymond Cattell, Capital accumulation


The five-factor model (FFM) is a widely used taxonomy of human personality; yet its neuro anatomical basis remains unclear. This is partly because past associations between gray-matter volume and FFM were driven by different surface-based morphometry (SBM) indices (i.e. cortical thickness, surface area, cortical folding or any combination of them). To overcome this limitation, we used Free-Surfer to study how variability in SBM measures was related to the FFM in n = 507 participants from the Human Connectome Project.Neuroticism was associated with thicker cortex and smaller area and folding in prefrontal-temporal regions. Extraversion was linked to thicker pre-cuneus and smaller superior temporal cortex area. Openness was linked to thinner cortex and greater area and folding in prefrontal-parietal regions. Agreeableness was correlated to thinner prefrontal cortex and smaller fusiform gyrus area. Conscientiousness was associated with thicker cortex and smaller area and folding in prefrontal regions. These findings demonstrate that anatomical variability in prefrontal cortices is linked to individual differences in the socio-cognitive dispositions described by the FFM. Cortical thickness and surface area/folding were inversely related each others as a function of different FFM traits (neuroticism, extraversion and consciousness vs openness), which may reflect brain maturational effects that predispose or protect against psychiatric disorders.

Concepts: Brain, Personality psychology, Cerebral cortex, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Fusiform gyrus, Prefrontal cortex, Big Five personality traits