Chimpanzees' personalities differ based on their brain structures

Georgia State University researchers found that chimpanzees have differing personality traits based on certain structures in their brains, in a study that they said may shed light on how human personality development works, too.
By Rick Docksai | Nov 26, 2018
Chimpanzees have personal behavior traits, and they correlate closely to how large or small their brain's hippocampus region is, according to research led by Georgia State University. The study authors said that their findings may offer some insights into understanding the human brain and human mental illness, as our brains and chimpanzees' brains are known to be highly similar.

Robert Latzman, Georgia State associate professor of psychology and the study's lead author, explained that humans who exhibit the same psychological disorders "tend to have the same personality traits," even when they show different symptoms. Researchers think that human personality traits form partly from social-cultural factors and partly from genetics and neural structure.

Chimpanzees' personalities depend more fully on genes and neurons, according to Latzman, but he noted that the brain structures and personality formation processes are still close to those in humans. As such, he said, chimpanzees can be useful models for how human brain structure and personality interact.

Latzman and his colleagues gathered brain scans and personality assessments of 191 chimpanzees. They looked for correlations, focusing especially on how personality traits matched with the sizes of two brain regions associated with emotion: the amygdala and hippocampus.

They found that chimpanzees with more hippocampal grey matter were more assertive and impulsive. Latzman said that the human brain's hippocampus size influences our personalities in similar ways, and in some cases is linked to psychological disorders.

"Our ability to understand the evolutionary basis of these traits may say something about the evolutionary and biological roots of both personality and psychopathology," Latzman said. "This kind of research could help scientists develop interventions that target the underlying dispositions associated with mental illness."

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