A Good Personality

Kevin Lewis

May 15, 2011

The Origins of Extraversion: Joint Effects of Facultative Calibration and Genetic Polymorphism

Aaron Lukaszewski & James Roney
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, March 2011, Pages 409-421

The origins of variation in extraversion are largely mysterious. Recent theories and some findings suggest that personality variation can be orchestrated by specific genetic polymorphisms. Few studies, however, have examined an alternative hypothesis that personality traits are facultatively calibrated to variations in other phenotypic features, and none have considered how these distinct processes may interact in personality determination. Since physical strength and physical attractiveness likely predicted the reproductive payoffs of extraverted behavioral strategies over most of human history, it was theorized that extraversion is calibrated to variation in these characteristics. Confirming these predicted patterns, strength and attractiveness together explained a surprisingly large fraction of variance in extraversion across two studies- effects that were independent of variance explained by an androgen receptor gene polymorphism. These novel findings initially support an integrative model wherein facultative calibration and specific genetic polymorphisms operate in concert to determine personality variation.


Your Best Self Helps Reveal Your True Self: Positive Self-Presentation Leads to More Accurate Personality Impressions

Lauren Human et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

How does trying to make a positive impression on others impact the accuracy of impressions? In an experimental study, the impact of positive self-presentation on the accuracy of impressions was examined by randomly assigning targets to either "put their best face forward" or to a control condition with low self-presentation demands. First, self-presenters successfully elicited more positive impressions from others, being viewed as more normative and better liked than those less motivated to self-present. Importantly, self-presenters were also viewed with greater accuracy than control targets, being perceived more in line with their self-reported distinctive personality traits and their IQ test scores. Mediational analyses were consistent with the hypothesis that self-presenters were more engaging than controls, which in turn led these individuals to be viewed with greater distinctive self-other agreement. In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one's best self forward helps reveal one's true self.


Increasing Emotional Competence Improves Psychological and Physical Well-Being, Social Relationships, and Employability

Delphine Nelis et al.
Emotion, April 2011, Pages 354-366

This study builds on earlier work showing that adult emotional competencies (EC) could be improved through a relatively brief training. In a set of 2 controlled experimental studies, the authors investigated whether developing EC could lead to improved emotional functioning; long-term personality changes; and important positive implications for physical, psychological, social, and work adjustment. Results of Study 1 showed that 18 hr of training with e-mail follow-up was sufficient to significantly improve emotion regulation, emotion understanding, and overall EC. These changes led in turn to long-term significant increases in extraversion and agreeableness as well as a decrease in neuroticism. Results of Study 2 showed that the development of EC brought about positive changes in psychological well-being, subjective health, quality of social relationships, and employability. The effect sizes were sufficiently large for the changes to be considered as meaningful in people's lives.


'Big Five' personality dimensions and social attainment: Evidence from beyond the campus

Michael O'Connell & Hammad Sheikh
Personality and Individual Differences, April 2011, Pages 828-833

Research on the contribution of personality traits to attainment has focused heavily on grades among college students. Conscientiousness emerges consistently as the most powerful personality dimension. However, while university students are a convenient group to study, there remain questions about the generalizability, and utility of examining the link between personality and attainment, in a group that consists mainly of educational high-achievers who have not yet earned an income. In this study, data were instead drawn from a more diverse and representative sample gathered in the British National Child Development Study (NCDS). Regression analyses indicated that, in the general population compared to student samples, Openness and Emotional Stability are stronger predictors of educational attainment and earnings than conscientiousness.


Unemployment Duration and Personality

Selver Derya Uysal & Winfried Pohlmeier
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming

This paper focuses on the role personality traits play in determining individual unemployment duration. We argue that a worker's job search intensity is decisively driven by her personality traits, reflected in her propensity to motivate and control herself while searching for a job. Moreover, personality traits, in as far as they can be signaled to a potential employer, may also enhance the probability of receiving and accepting a job offer. For our econometric duration analysis, we use the well-accepted taxonomy "Big Five" to classify personality traits. Based on individual unemployment data taken from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) our empirical findings reveal that the personality traits Conscientiousness and Neuroticism have a strong impact on the instantaneous probability of finding a job, where the former has a positive effect and the latter has a negative effect. The direction of the effect on the subsequent employment duration is the opposite. We do not find any significant effects of the personality traits Extraversion and Agreeableness on the duration of unemployment. The personality trait Openness eases finding a job only for female unemployed workers and workers with migration background.


Sources of Cognitive Exploration: Genetic Variation in the Prefrontal Dopamine System Predicts Openness/Intellect

Colin DeYoung et al.
Journal of Research in Personality, forthcoming

The personality trait Openness/Intellect reflects the tendency to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, artistic, and intellectual-all characteristics that involve cognitive exploration. Little is known about the biological basis of Openness/Intellect, but the trait has been linked to cognitive functions of prefrontal cortex, and the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a key role in motivation to explore. The hypothesis that dopamine is involved in Openness/Intellect was supported by examining its association with two genes that are central components of the prefrontal dopaminergic system. In two demographically different samples (children: N = 608; adults: N = 214), variation in the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) and the catechol-O-methyltransferase gene (COMT) predicted Openness/Intellect, as main effects in the child sample and in interaction in adults.


Dopamine receptor genes predict risk preferences, time preferences, and related economic choices

Jeffrey Carpenter, Justin Garcia & Koji Lum
Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, June 2011, Pages 233-261

Outside of economics, researchers have recently identified genetic predictors of "sensation-seeking" that have been linked to risky and impulsive behaviors. We examine the implications of these genetic polymorphisms for economic behavior. Our analysis indicates that the 7-repeat allele of the DRD4 gene that regulates dopamine uptake in the brain predicts risk-taking and time preferences in economic experiments that allow for ambiguity, losses and discounting. These genetic polymorphisms can also be used to directly predict financial choice patterns that are consistent with previous findings in the behavioral genetics literature.


Personality and Health Outcomes: Making Positive Expectations a Reality

Heather Lench
Journal of Happiness Studies, June 2011, Pages 493-507

Trait optimism is associated with better health, but the reason for this association is unclear. The present investigation focused on specific goals and negative emotions as potential pathways through which optimism can lead to better health. College students (n = 336) in the U.S. reported their mental and physical health at the start of an academic term and during finals. Over the course of the term, they reported three daily events and rated the extent to which they were motivated to attain positive outcomes (approach goals) or avoid negative outcomes (avoidance goals). Greater optimism predicted fewer mental and physical health symptoms at the end of the term, controlling for initial symptoms. This association between optimism and symptoms was mediated by the intensity of avoidance goals and negative emotion during the term. These findings suggest that positive expectations do predict better health and this relationship is partially due to the goals people set in their daily lives.


Are positive emotions just as "positive" across cultures?

Janxin Leu, Jennifer Wang & Kelly Koo
Emotion, forthcoming

Whereas positive emotions and feeling unequivocally good may be at the heart of well-being among Westerners, positive emotions often carry negative associations within many Asian cultures. Based on a review of East-West cultural differences in dialectical emotions, or co-occurring positive and negative feelings, we predicted culture to influence the association between positive emotions and depression, but not the association between negative emotions and depression. As predicted, in a survey of over 600 European-, immigrant Asian-, and Asian American college students, positive emotions were associated with depression symptoms among European Americans and Asian Americans, but not immigrant Asians. Negative emotions were associated with depression symptoms among all three groups. We also found initial evidence that acculturation (i.e., nativity) may influence the role of positive emotions in depression: Asian Americans fell "in between" the two other groups. These findings suggest the importance of studying the role of culture in positive emotions and in positive psychology. The use of interventions based on promoting positive emotions in clinical psychology among Asian clients is briefly discussed.


Performance benefits of depression: Sequential decision making in a healthy sample and a clinically depressed sample

Bettina von Helversen et al.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research reported conflicting results concerning the influence of depression on cognitive task performance. Whereas some studies reported that depression enhances performance, other studies reported negative or null effects. These discrepant findings appear to result from task variation, as well as the severity and treatment status of participant depression. To better understand these moderating factors, we study the performance of individuals - in a complex sequential decision task similar to the secretary problem - who are nondepressed, depressed, and recovering from a major depressive episode. We find that depressed individuals perform better than do nondepressed individuals. Formal modeling of participants' decision strategies suggested that acutely depressed participants had higher thresholds for accepting options and made better choices than either healthy participants or those recovering from depression.


The Lower Subjective Social Status of Neurotic Individuals: Multiple Pathways Through Occupational Prestige, Income, and Illness

Giuseppe Alfonsi, Michael Conway & Dolores Pushkar
Journal of Personality, June 2011, Pages 619-642

Subjective social status seems to predict health outcomes, above and beyond the contribution of objective status. The present hypothesis was that neuroticism predicts subjective status and does so via the influence of neuroticism on objective status (i.e., education, occupation, and income), self-perceived illness, and greater negative affect. In turn, lower subjective status would be associated with more severe self-perceived illness. Older adults (N=341) shortly after retirement completed measures of neuroticism, attainment in education, occupation, and salary, and over 2 subsequent years, they completed measures of current subjective status, self-reported illness, and current negative affect. As hypothesized, greater neuroticism was associated with lower subjective status via lower objective status and more severe self-reported illness. However, current negative affect was not associated with subjective status, and subjective status did not predict future poorer subjective health.


Sex and Emotion in the Acquired Capability for Suicide

Michael Anestis et al.
Archives of Suicide Research, Spring 2011, Pages 172-182

This article examined the impact of distress tolerance on sex differences in the acquired capability for suicide. Two hundred undergraduate participants filled out a series of questionnaires related to emotions and suicide risk. Males exhibited higher mean levels of the acquired capability than did women and distress tolerance interacted with sex to predict the acquired capability (β = -.70, p < .02), such that males with high distress tolerance were at the greatest risk. These results indicate that the degree to which an individual can tolerate negative emotions impacts the strength of the relationship between sex and the acquired capability for suicide.


Suicidal Behavior Is Associated with Reduced Corpus Callosum Area

Fabienne Cyprien et al.
Biological Psychiatry, forthcoming

Background: Corpus callosum (CC) size has been associated with cognitive and emotional deficits in a range of neuropsychiatric and mood disorders. As such deficits are also found in suicidal behavior, we investigated specifically the association between CC atrophy and suicidal behavior.

Methods: We studied 435 right-handed individuals without dementia from a cohort of community-dwelling persons aged 65 years and over (the European Strategic Program on Research in Information Technology study). They were divided in three groups: suicide attempters (n = 21), affective control subjects (AC) (n = 180) without history of suicide attempt but with a history of depression, and healthy control subjects (HC) (n = 234). T1-weighted magnetic resonance images were traced to measure the midsagittal areas of the anterior, mid, and posterior CC. Multivariate analysis of covariance was used to compare CC areas in the three groups.

Results: Multivariate analyses adjusted for age, gender, childhood trauma, head trauma, and total brain volume showed that the area of the posterior third of CC was significantly smaller in suicide attempters than in AC (p = .020) and HC (p = .010) individuals. No significant differences were found between AC and HC. No differences were found for the anterior and mid thirds of the CC.

Conclusions: Our findings emphasize a reduced size of the posterior third of the CC in subjects with a history of suicide, suggesting a diminished interhemispheric connectivity and a possible role of CC in the pathophysiology of suicidal behavior. Further studies are needed to strengthen these results and clarify the underlying cellular changes leading to these morphometric differences.


Genetic essentialism: On the deceptive determinism of DNA

Ilan Dar-Nimrod & Steven Heine
Psychological Bulletin, forthcoming

This article introduces the notion of genetic essentialist biases: cognitive biases associated with essentialist thinking that are elicited when people encounter arguments that genes are relevant for a behavior, condition, or social group. Learning about genetic attributions for various human conditions leads to a particular set of thoughts regarding those conditions: they are more likely to be perceived as (a) immutable and determined, (b) having a specific etiology, (c) homogeneous and discrete, and (d) natural, which can lead to the naturalistic fallacy. There are rare cases of "strong genetic explanation" when such responses to genetic attributions may be appropriate; however, people tend to overweigh genetic attributions compared with competing attributions even in cases of "weak genetic explanation," which are far more common. The authors reviewed research on people's understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, criminality, mental illness, and obesity through a genetic essentialism lens, highlighting attitudinal, cognitive, and behavioral changes that stem from consideration of genetic attributions as bases of these categories. Scientific and media portrayals of genetic discoveries are discussed with respect to genetic essentialism, as is the role that genetic essentialism has played (and continues to play) in various public policies, legislation, scientific endeavors, and ideological movements in recent history. Last, moderating factors and interventions to reduce the magnitude of genetic essentialism, which identify promising directions to explore in order to reduce these biases, are discussed.

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