Scientists discover area of brain that makes a 'people person'


Cambridge University researchers have discovered that whether someone is a 'people-person' may depend on the structure of their brain: the greater the concentration of brain tissue in certain parts of the brain, the more likely they are to be a warm, sentimental person.

Why is it that some of us really enjoy the company of others while some people are detached and independent? In an effort to explore these questions, Maël Lebreton and colleagues from the Cambridge Department of Psychiatry, in collaboration with Oulu University, Finland, examined the relationship between personality and brain structure in 41 male volunteers.

The volunteers underwent a brain scan using (MRI). They also completed a questionnaire that asked them to rate themselves on items such as 'I make a warm personal connection with most people', or 'I like to please other people as much as I can'. The answers to the questionnaire provide an overall measure of emotional warmth and sociability called social reward dependence.

The researchers then analysed the relationship between social reward dependence and the concentration of grey matter (brain-cell containing tissue) in different brain regions. They found that the greater the concentration of tissue in the orbitofrontal cortex (the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes), and in the ventral striatum (a deep structure in the centre of the brain), the higher they tended to score on the social reward dependence measure. The research is published in the .

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 ."

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.

Dr Murray explained: "It's interesting that the degree to which we find social interaction rewarding relates to the structure of our brains in regions that are important for very simple biological drives such as food, sweet liquids and sex. Perhaps this gives us a clue to how complex features like sentimentality and affection evolved from structures that in lower animals originally were only important for basic biological survival processes."

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

"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 structural features of those disorders," said Dr Murray.

Source: University of Cambridge (news : web)

Citation: Scientists discover area of brain that makes a 'people person' (2009, May 20) retrieved 19 September 2019 from
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May 20, 2009
I have only one problem with this.
You have based your assessment of the volunteers personality upon their interpretation of themselves.
Unless they were all unusually objective individuals this form of assessment has a myriad of problems.
Some will try to be what they think the assessors are looking for.
Even if the assessors say they want only their real self some will believe they are smarter and know what the assessors really want.
Some will project what they would like people to think of them'
Some will describe what they think they are even if they aren't
Some will describe themselves as they think they are even though all who know them would disagree.

This method of assessment is far too subjective

Which means that causes or relationships may be incorrect despite the very best endeavours of the researchers

It is however a very interesting line of research and hopefully one that will be continued.

How you accurately assess personality is the question.
Gangsters are sometimes claimed to be loving gentle carers of their family
Some highly lauded members of our societies are often claimed by their family to be sadistic and tyranical.
Where does the truth lie?
With such contradictions how would you align MRI results? With the family image or the public image or with an entirely different self image?

Whilst the research project is very interesting and could prove to be of enormous value in several areas I do not envy the researchers problem of determining the true personality of the volunteers.

May 20, 2009

May 20, 2009
au-pu, variability in self assessment notwithstanding, the observation of distinct spatial differences between "warm" vs "detached" individuals brains indicates that there is some merit to these self assessments.

May 20, 2009
au-pu, variability in self assessment notwithstanding, the observation of distinct spatial differences between "warm" vs "detached" individuals brains indicates that there is some merit to these self assessments.

Yes, but the research actually had to prove the connection, and it needed some kind of well-founded and objective measure to begin with.

May 20, 2009
Perhaps this could a first step toward physical proof of psychological models, such as in MBTI: The "people people" were likely Feelers and/or Extroverts ...
In MBTI you are born with 1 of the 16 different types of brain configurations:

May 21, 2009
Sure, Myria83, but all this study has shown is a relationship between how people complete these survey instruments and the structure of their brains. It's going to far to extrapolate a relationship between the instruments and actual social interactions. It would be much better to get some objective measure like the connectedness or betweenness of the participating individual in their social network and compare differences in those metrics to measurable differences in brain structure.

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