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Personality beyond taxonomy


Human and animal behaviour exhibits complex but regular patterns over time, often referred to as expressions of personality. Yet it remains unclear what personality really is: is it just the behavioural patterns themselves, something in the brain, in the genes or perhaps all of these? Here we offer a set of causal hypotheses about the role of personality, integrating psychological and neuroscientific approaches to personality in a testable framework. These hypotheses clarify the causal and constitutive relations that personality has with genes, environment, brain, mind and behaviour, and we suggest specific experiments that can adjudicate amongst the different hypotheses. We focus on a set of models that propose that personality is instantiated in the brain, distally caused by genes and environment and, in turn, causing the overt behaviours from which it is often inferred. We argue that articulating and testing such models will be essential in a mature science of personality.

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Fig. 1: Causal models of personality.
Fig. 2: Challenges for personality neuroscience.
Fig. 3: Causal feature learning (CFL).


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We are grateful for feedback on this paper from the members of our laboratory and from T. Yarkoni, S. Vazire, W. Revelle and C. DeYoung. The authors are supported in part by NSF grants BCS-1840756 and BCS-1845958.

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Correspondence to Julien Dubois or Ralph Adolphs.

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Dubois, J., Eberhardt, F., Paul, L.K. et al. Personality beyond taxonomy. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1110–1117 (2020).

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