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in babies a few months old found that fussy babies who fidget and are hard to soothe are likely to become shy and withdrawn children with behavioural problems in later life.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based on an infant's behaviour and the physiological activity of his brain, which child is likely to be shy and withdrawn at the age of two,' he said.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.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower