Novelty seeking and harm avoidance personality traits correlate with cerebellar volume in healthy volunteers
For a long time it was widely thought that the role of cerebellum is restricted to motor coordination and control of well-learned motor sequences. Recently there has been, however, increasing evidence pointing to other roles that the cerebellum possibly plays. One line of investigation has pointed to involvement of the cerebellum in “purely cognitive” functions such as attention (as recently highlighted also in this blog), processing of musical features (Alluri et al. 2012), and tentative findings of emotional disturbances in patients with cerebellar lesions, especially when involving the posterior lobe, have suggested an even more extensive role for cerebellum in supporting human cognitive-affective functions (Schmahmann & Sherman 1998).
In their recent study, Laricchiuta et al. (2012) measured the cerebellar volumes of an extensive sample (N=125) of healthy volunteers using magnetic resonance imaging. The same subjects were assessed with a comprehensive personality inventory (the Temperament and Character Inventory developed by Cloninger). Temperamental traits (that are assumed to be relatively stable over time and to a large extent genetically/biologically determined) were derived from the inventory, including novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence, and persistence. Notably, the authors observed that novelty-seeking scores were positively correlated, and harm-avoidance scores were negatively correlated, with cerebellar volumes.
These highly interesting findings add to the growing pool of evidence indicating that the role of cerebellum is much more extensive than what was for a long time assumed in cognitive neuroscience / neurology. While the involvement of cerebellum in cognitive processing has been widely demonstrated, studies on the role played by cerebellum in affective regulation and motivational-goal directed behavior, functions that are closely associated with novelty seeking and harm avoidance personality traits, have been more scarce. The findings of Laricchiuta et al. (2012) provide an important demonstration of an association between the novelty seeking and harm avoidance personality features and cerebellar structures, and pave way for further studies on the role of cerebellum in affective-cognitive regulation of behavior.
Alluri V, Toiviainen P, Jaaskelainen IP, Glerean E, Sams M, Brattico E. Largescale brain networks emerge from dynamic processing of musical timbre, key and rhythm. Neuroimage (2012) 59: 3677-3689. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.11.019
Laricchiuta D, Petrosini L, Piras F, Macci E, Cutuli D, Chiapponi C, Cerasa A, Picerni E, Caltagirone C, Girardi P, Tamorri SF, Spalletta G. Linking novelty seeking and harm avoidance personality traits to cerebellar volumes. Human Brain Mapping (2012) e-publication ahead of print. http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1002/hbm.22174
Schmahmann JD, Sherman JC. The cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome. Brain (1998) 121: 561–579. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/121.4.561