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Agreeableness/Neurobiology: Agreeableness (…) appears to reflect a tendency toward the maintenance of social stability, encompassing traits reflecting prosociality vs. antisociality: compassion, empathy, cooperation, politeness – a general tendency to be interested in and considerate of others’ needs, desires and feelings and to refrain from aggressing or imposing one’s will on others. Such altruistic tendencies are of particular importance for social species, and traits resembling Agreeableness are found consistently in social mammals (Gosling and John 1999)(1).
Agreeableness seems likely to be supported by brain systems that are involved in social information-processing. Brain regions associated with these forms of social information-processing include the medial prefrontal cortex (Seitz, Nickel and Azari 2006)(2), superior temporal sulcus (Allison, Puce and McCarthy 2000)(3), temporal-parietal junction (Saxe and Powell 2006)(4), and the mirror neuron system that includes inferior frontal gyrus and rostral posterior parietal cortex (Iacoboni 2007(5); Rizzolatti and Craighero 2004)(6). (Mirror neurons respond similarly when watching another agent perform a task and when performing it oneself.)
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Agreeableness, like Neuroticism, has been associated with variation of the serotonin transporter gene (Canli and Lesch 2007(7); Jang, Hu, Livesley et al. 2001(8); Wand, McCaul, Yang et al. 2002)(9), but there are other endogenous psychoactive substances in addition to serotonin that may contribute to Agreeableness, including the socio-sexual neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin and the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. Oxytocin is involved in social bonding (Depue and Morrone-Strupinsky 2005)(10), and acute administration of oxytocin in human males has been found to improve their ability to identify others’ emotional states from facial expressions (Domes, Heinrichs, Michel et al. 2007)(11). Testosterone is linked to aggression, and evidence exists to suggest that higher exposure to testosterone is linked to reduced Agreeableness.
1. Gosling, S. D. and John, O. P. 1999. Personality dimensions in nonhuman animals: a cross-species review, Current Directions in Psychological Science 8: 69–75
2. Seitz, R. J., Nickel, J. and Azari, N. P. 2006. Functional modularity of the medial prefrontal cortex: involvement in human empathy, Neuropsychology 20: 743–51
3. Allison, T., Puce, A. and McCarthy, G. 2000. Social perception from visual cues: role of the STS region, Trends in Cognitive Sciences 4: 267–78
4. Saxe, R. and Powell, L. J. 2006. It’s the thought that counts: specific brain regions for one component of theory of mind, Psychological Science 17: 692–9
5. Iacoboni, M. 2007. Face to face: the neural basis of social mirroring and empathy, Psychiatric Annals 37: 236–41
6. Rizzolatti, G. and Craighero, L. 2004. The mirror-neuron system, Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–92
7. Canli, T. and Lesch, K.-P. 2007. Long story short: the serotonin transporter in emotion regulation and social cognition, Nature Neuroscience 10: 1103–9
8. Jang, K. L., Hu, S., Livesley, W. J., Angleitner, A., Riemann, R., Ando, J., Ono, Y., Vernon, P. A. and Hamer, D. J. 2001. Covariance structure of Neuroticism and Agreeableness: a twin and molecular genetic analysis of the role of the serotonin transporter gene, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81: 295–304
9. Wand, G. S., McCaul, M., Yang, X., Reynolds, J., Gotjen, D., Lee, S. and Ali, A. 2002. The mu-opioid receptor gene polymorphism (A118G) alters HPA axis activation induced by opioid receptor blockade, Neuropsychopharmacology 26: 106–14
10. Depue, R. A. and Morrone-Strupinsky, J. V. 2005. A neurobehavioural model of affiliative bonding: implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation, Behavioural and Brain Sciences 28: 313–50
11. Domes, G., Heinrichs, M., Michel, A., Berger, C. and Herpertz, S. C. 2007. Oxytocin improves ‘mind-reading’ in humans, Biological Psychiatry 61: 731–3
Colin G. DeYoung and Jeremy R. Gray, „ Personality neuroscience: explaining individual differences in affect, behaviour and cognition“, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Philip J. Corr
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009