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Rising to the Challenge: Identifying Neural Correlates in Psychological Type

Brain science has been one of the central topics in the scientific world in the last decade. This has been an exciting time for brain researchers. Thanks to PET, MEG,SPECT  fMRI, and even EEG  mapping techniques, many of the theories about how the brain really works have been confirmed or modified.  These days, a certain validation by skeptics is often bestowed, at least reluctantly, if a concept of the mind, cognition or personality can be connected to findings in neuroscience using these measuring tools.At the 2011 Association for Psychological Type Conference in San Francisco, the keynote speaker today was Dr. Dario Nardi who has made significant inroads correlating neurology with the eight distinctive cognitive processes and the sixteen personality types as described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Here is a just a sample of some of his findings:

  • Dominant judging personality types tend to use the left prefrontal cortex/Perceiving personality types tend to use the right prefrontal cortex.
  • Sensors use less brain activity to write their names with the non-preferred hand than intuitives use.
  • INFP brains tend to show more activity in the areas associated with active listening.
  • ENFP/ENTP brains are “lit up like Christmas trees.”  Indeed, dominant extraverted intuitives have all sorts of brain areas active enabling them to connect the seemingly unconnectable.
  • ENFJ/ENTJ brains appear to have “cognitive superhighways” that efficiently arrive at the left prefrontal cortex to arrive at decisions swiftly and decisively.
  • INFJ/INTJ brains (introverted intuitives) will respond to both new and familiar tasks, always arriving at novel solutions. Areas of the brain associated with creative problem solving are therefore captured on EEG

However what really resonated with me about this lecture were the several qualifiers that he mentioned.  For instance, Nardi acknowledged that not all brains of a certain personality type were going to look exactly alike. Indeed, personal experiences do affect how a particular brain develops.  This consistent with the research on neuroplasticity. The brain can change. He also stated that left handers don’t necessarily have the same brain mapping.  He also clarified that his subjects were college students so it follows that these findings may not be the same for older brains, especially given normal type development.  The research was exciting but there were no wild claims either.  There is nothing that can spoil the scientific stew more than a claim that takes a research finding out of context.

I am eager to read Nardi’s book, Neuroscience of Personality, to learn more about this topic.  Certainly a 90-minute keynote speech cannot adequately cover 5 years of work in this important area of research. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to see that progress is being made toward identifying neural correlates in psychological type.  The challenge is out there and Nardi has hurled a significant opening volley toward skeptics that doubt the validity of psychological type concepts.


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