Correlations Between Personality and Brain Structure: A Crucial Role of Gender

Cereb Cortex. 2017 Jul 1;27(7):3698-3712. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw191.


Previous studies have shown that males and females differ in personality and gender differences have also been reported in brain structure. However, effects of gender on this "personality-brain" relationship are yet unknown. We therefore investigated if the neural correlates of personality differ between males and females. Whole brain voxel-based morphometry was used to investigate the influence of gender on associations between NEO FFI personality traits and gray matter volume (GMV) in a matched sample of 182 males and 182 females. In order to assess associations independent of and dependent on gender, personality-GMV relationships were tested across the entire sample and separately for males and females. There were no significant correlations between any personality scale and GMV in the analyses across the entire sample. In contrast, significant associations with GMV were detected for neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness only in males. Interestingly, GMV in left precuneus/parieto-occipital sulcus correlated with all 3 traits. Thus, our results indicate that brain structure-personality relationships are highly dependent on gender, which might be attributable to hormonal interplays or differences in brain organization between males and females. Our results thus provide possible neural substrates of personality-behavior relationships and underline the important role of gender in these associations.

Keywords: NEO-FFI; extreme personality disorders; hormonal influence; left precuneus/parieto-occipital sulcus; voxel brain morphometry.

Publication types

  • Twin Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Personality* / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Twins, Dizygotic
  • Twins, Monozygotic
  • Young Adult