High-Res Brain Scans to Reveal Personality Traits

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High-res brain scans will enable the scientific community to immediately begin exploring relationships between brain circuits and individual behavior.
Cultura Science/Sigrid Gombert

U.S. researchers published incredibly detailed images of the human brain as part of an international project aimed at uncovering how brain architecture influences personality.

The five-year "Human Connectome Project" or HCP -- being conducted at 10 research centers in the United States and Europe -- will use advanced brain imaging technology to collect vast amounts of data on healthy adults and make it freely available to researchers worldwide.

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"The HCP will have a major impact on our understanding of the healthy adult human brain," said David Van Essen, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

It will enable "the scientific community to immediately begin exploring relationships between brain circuits and individual behavior," he said.

"And it will set the stage for future projects that examine changes in brain circuits underlying the wide variety of brain disorders afflicting humankind."

Tuesday's initial release includes scans of 68 healthy adults, along with behavioral information, including individual differences in personality, cognitive capabilities, emotional characteristics and perceptual function.

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The extremely high-resolution brain scans were achieved using two techniques of magnetic resonance imaging. Each have limitations, the researchers said, but taken together, they should give a more complete picture of what goes on in the brain.

The researchers also performed scans of the test subjects while performing specific tasks.

The resulting dataset is massive -- comprising two terabytes (2 trillion bytes) of computer memory, or the equivalent of more than 400 DVDs.

Over the next five years, the researchers hope to release similar information on a total of 1,200 individuals, including siblings and twins, which will help determine which brain circuitry traits might be inherited.