The American Association for the Advancement of Science: Brain study reveals roots of personality

THE FIRST hard evidence that nature may play a bigger role than nurture in forming human personality emerged at the weekend.

Scientists who studied brain- wave patterns in babies a few months old found that fussy babies who fidget and are hard to soothe are likely to become shy and withdrawn children with behavioural problems in later life.

The controversial research into the genetic basis of childhood behaviour was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. It shows that children with a certain pattern of electrical activity in the brain are significantly more prone to becoming shy and introverted. A parallel study demonstrates that genes play a role in deciding which type of personality a child will have.

Nathan Fox, professor of human development at the University of Maryland at College Park, said babies with a high state of electrical activity on the right frontal lobe of the brain are more likely to be shy and introverted than babies with stronger brain-wave patterns on the left frontal lobe. 'We are now able to predict, based on an infant's behaviour and the physiological activity of his brain, which child is likely to be shy and withdrawn at the age of two,' he said. 'Our studies go up to the age of seven and we feel confident we've identified a physiological pattern that reflects activity on different sides of the brain which are markers or fingerprints for personality.'

The research involved testing 400 children with tapes of recorded speech, moving mobiles and cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to see their reactions. About 20 per cent became unduly aroused and fearful, and this group tended to have electrical excitability in the right side of their brains.

Professor Fox said these children may have trouble making friends and are likely to shy away from being active in a group. They may be more anxious, which can show up as depression or disruptive behaviour in later life, he said. 'What we are saying is that when it comes to personality, we do not start with a blank slate.' Parents can help minimise the risks of problems developing in these children.

Other researchers who studied temperaments in 700 pairs of twins found the first hard evidence that aspects of personality have a genetic component, according to Hill Goldsmith, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 'Our genes seem to account for about half the variability we see in temperament.'

He said, however, that upbringing can override a genetic tendency. 'It's a fallacy to believe that anything with a genetic input is not modifiable.'

Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said the value of researching into the genetics of personality is that a 'sizeable burden of guilt' can be lifted from parents who feel it may be their fault if a child is overly shy and introverted. He said the human brain has at least 150 different chemicals, such as neurotransmitters and natural opiates. 'They determine the firing patterns that make a child a little more active, or a little less active; a little more anxious or a little less anxious.'

Differences between people should come as no surprise because although everyone has these 150 chemicals 'we inherit them in different concentrations - a million different tomato soups', he said. 'That is why there is a large number of different temperaments - some rare, some common - and this is a new area of research. It is just beginning.'

News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
people

Tennis star is set to marry his long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Marketing Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Renewable Energy compa...

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?