Born shy, always shy? Temperamental differences may last throughout life, brain study suggests

Whether a person avoids novelty or embraces it may depend in part on brain differences that have existed from infancy, new findings suggest.

When shown pictures of unfamiliar faces, adults who were shy toddlers showed a relatively high level of activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala. Adults who were more outgoing toddlers showed less activity in this brain structure, which is related to emotion and novelty. The findings appear in the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Scientists have long been interested in finding explanations for differences in temperament, the stable moods and behavior profiles that emerge in infancy and early childhood. One of the most well studied facets of temperament is how people respond to novelty.

Inhibited children tend to be timid with new people, objects, and situations, while uninhibited children spontaneously approach them.

"Now we're suggesting that that same link continues through life," said lead author Carl Schwartz of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

"We found that individual differences in temperament are associated with persistent differences in the responsivity of the amygdala, after more than 20 years of development and life experience," he said.

The Science study is the latest chapter in a long-term study of child development. Jerome Kagan of Harvard University (also a co-author on the current study) and colleagues initially categorized a large group of children, around age two, as inhibited or uninhibited. Schwartz's team then studied the children's behavior again, around age 13. Now, approximately nine years later, Schwartz and his colleagues have compared their test subjects' brain activity, using fMRI scans to monitor a subset of 22 individuals, around age 21.

While the authors assumed that the brain differences they found at age 21 would have also exis

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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