Neuroticism modulates brain visuo-vestibular and anxiety systems during a virtual rollercoaster task

Hum Brain Mapp. 2017 Feb;38(2):715-726. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23411. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Different lines of research suggest that anxiety-related personality traits may influence the visual and vestibular control of balance, although the brain mechanisms underlying this effect remain unclear. To our knowledge, this is the first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study that investigates how individual differences in neuroticism and introversion, two key personality traits linked to anxiety, modulate brain regional responses and functional connectivity patterns during a fMRI task simulating self-motion. Twenty-four healthy individuals with variable levels of neuroticism and introversion underwent fMRI while performing a virtual reality rollercoaster task that included two main types of trials: (1) trials simulating downward or upward self-motion (vertical motion), and (2) trials simulating self-motion in horizontal planes (horizontal motion). Regional brain activity and functional connectivity patterns when comparing vertical versus horizontal motion trials were correlated with personality traits of the Five Factor Model (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion-introversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness). When comparing vertical to horizontal motion trials, we found a positive correlation between neuroticism scores and regional activity in the left parieto-insular vestibular cortex (PIVC). For the same contrast, increased functional connectivity between the left PIVC and right amygdala was also detected as a function of higher neuroticism scores. Together, these findings provide new evidence that individual differences in personality traits linked to anxiety are significantly associated with changes in the activity and functional connectivity patterns within visuo-vestibular and anxiety-related systems during simulated vertical self-motion. Hum Brain Mapp 38:715-726, 2017. © 2016 The Authors Human Brain Mapping Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: functional connectivity; neuroticism; parieto-insular vestibular cortex; vestibular system; virtual reality; visuo-vestibular interaction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / pathology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Eye Movements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Introversion, Psychological*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroticism*
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology*
  • Virtual Reality
  • Vision, Ocular
  • Young Adult