04 May 2010

Age-related brain shrinkage and personality traits: what is primary?

Psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis, working under the guidance of Denise Head, have found that the characteristics of a person's personality are associated with the process of age-related brain shrinkage. The results obtained by them are published in the preliminary on-line version of the journal Neurobiology of Aging in the article "Exploring the relationship between personality and regional brain volume in healthy aging"

The results of numerous studies on animal models indicate the destructive effect of chronic stress on the brain. Based on these data, the researchers formulated a hypothesis according to which the tendency to neuroticism accelerates the decrease in brain volume as we age. When testing the hypothesis, they paid attention to the regions of the brain most susceptible to age-related changes, which at the same time are responsible for mindfulness, emotions and memory.

The authors analyzed brain images obtained by magnetic resonance imaging, demographic data and information about the personality characteristics of 79 mentally healthy volunteers aged 44-88 years. The results of data processing showed that the age-related decrease in the volume of gray matter in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain (primarily in the so-called tonsils, subcortical structures involved in the processing of emotionally colored information) is more pronounced in individuals prone to neurotic disorders. At the same time, the largest volumes of these brain regions were observed in people with a more stable psyche and a moderate emotional background. A similar pattern extended to the ocular-frontal cortex, which is part of the prefrontal region and is involved in the processing of social and emotional stimuli.

According to Denise Head, the data obtained for the first time demonstrate the connection of personality traits with age-related brain changes. She also notes that it is not yet known what was in the beginning, "chicken or egg": it is possible that the changes taking place in the brain form personality traits. To find out what is the cause and what is the effect, the authors plan to conduct a long–term monitoring of the mental state of volunteers and concomitant changes in their brains.

Currently, there is more and more data according to which, in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, people show a tendency to neuroticism and their resistance to emotional stress decreases. The corresponding changes in behavior can be used as early markers of Alzheimer's disease. The authors plan to continue studying the relationship between personality traits and changes in the structure of the brain, which, in their opinion, is one of the first stages of the development of Alzheimer's disease and, accordingly, a possible risk factor for the progression of the disease.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru based on ScienceDaily: Personality May Influence Brain Shrinkage in Aging.


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