Personality influences the neural responses to viewing facial expressions of emotion

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jun 12;366(1571):1684-701. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0362.


Cognitive research has long been aware of the relationship between individual differences in personality and performance on behavioural tasks. However, within the field of cognitive neuroscience, the way in which such differences manifest at a neural level has received relatively little attention. We review recent research addressing the relationship between personality traits and the neural response to viewing facial signals of emotion. In one section, we discuss work demonstrating the relationship between anxiety and the amygdala response to facial signals of threat. A second section considers research showing that individual differences in reward drive (behavioural activation system), a trait linked to aggression, influence the neural responsivity and connectivity between brain regions implicated in aggression when viewing facial signals of anger. Finally, we address recent criticisms of the correlational approach to fMRI analyses and conclude that when used appropriately, analyses examining the relationship between personality and brain activity provide a useful tool for understanding the neural basis of facial expression processing and emotion processing in general.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Cues
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurobiology
  • Personality*
  • Visual Perception