Personality May Predict Changes in Alzheimer's-Related Brain Areas

The more compliant you are, the more your mental health may suffer.

Posted Mar 25, 2020

Source: S.McQuillan

Does your personality have anything to do with your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease? A group of Scandinavian researchers recently set out to find an answer. Specifically, they looked at the association between Big Five personality factor and facet scores in elderly men and women, and at changes in their brain such as volume and amyloid plaque accumulation, measured over the course of four-and-a-half years.

The Big Five factors include openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Each of the five factors is made up of six personality facets. For instance, the agreeableness factor describes a cognitive style of sincerity, altruism, compliance, modesty, sympathy, and trust in others. Those who score high in agreeableness value cooperation, get along well with others, and tend to be humble and compliant. The openness to experience factor comprises imagination, artistic interests, depth of emotions, tolerance for diversity, willingness to experiment, and intellectual curiosity. Those who score high in openness to experience tend to be nonconformists.

The researchers followed 65 elderly men and women who were assessed using three neurocognitive tests (MRI, PET, and APOE genotyping) as well as cognitive and personality assessments at the beginning of the study, at 18 months in, and again at 54 months. They found that lower scores on agreeableness were associated with lower volume loss in the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, amygdala, mesial temporal lobe, and precuneus areas of the brain. Higher scores on openness were related to lower volume loss in the left hippocampus.

The study could not demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship between personality and the observed brain differences. But the researchers hypothesize that a less agreeable and more open personality may play some role in the preservation of volume in the brain areas of interest, which are involved in complex brain functions and vulnerable to irreversible damage to neurons and brain structure.


Panteleimon Giannakopoulos, Cristelle Rodriguez, Marie-Louise Montandon, Valentina Garibotto, Sven Haller, François R. Herrmann. Less agreeable, better preserved? A PET amyloid and MRI study in a community-based cohort. Neurobiology of Aging, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2020.02.004

Université de Genève. "To protect your brain, don't be (too) kind! Elderly people with low agreeableness are better protected against Alzheimer's disease." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 25, 2020)