Genetic Link Found Between Personality Traits And Mental Illness
According to a new study published in Nature Genetics this month, mental illness and personality traits share key genetic factors. This finding is in line with the general awareness that personality is thought to influence mental health, but the true nature of the association between the two hasn’t been entirely clear until now.
Moreover, when certain personality traits are pushed to high degree by adversity or life challenges, a previously harmless trait can manifest in a mental illness.
For the study, researchers analyzed the genetic profiles of 260,000 persons. During the analysis, the team identified six regions of the genome associated with personality regions. They honed in on the five major personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Psychologists believe these traits to be the basic attributes of personality.
When these personality domains of the genome were compared to regions linked to mental illness, some significant convergences were noted. For example, they found that areas in which gene variations predicted neuroticism were also the same regions where gene variations predicted depression and anxiety disorder.
According to Medical News Today, neuroticism is:
“…a long-term tendency to be in a negative emotional state. People with neuroticism tend to have more depressed moods – they suffer from feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety more frequently and more severely than other individuals.”
In this way, mental illness could be considered as maladaptive or extreme variations of personality characteristics. Indeed, although a link between neuroticism and depression/anxiety has been previously identified, the actual genetic overlap hadn’t been seen until now. It appears that if the trait becomes dominant or unhealthy, it can manifest itself in depression.
The section of the genome that hosts neuroticism also includes genes related to immunity and the nervous system. This may suggest that neuroticism could also be related to physical health. Researchers noted that the region is a “potential hub for cancer and developmental neuropsychiatric disorders.”
In addition, similar correlations were seen with extroversion and ADHD, as well as openness to experience and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The latter may offer a compelling look into the mental illness versus creativity conversation. Openness, simply put, is a willingness to engage in risk-taking and delve into intellectual curiosity. It is also the top personality trait which predicts scientific and artistic creativity.
According to VeryWell.com, a person who is openness to experience is characterized as:
“…creative, flexible, curious and adventurous. He enjoys having his mind and senses stimulated, such as by viewing art, listening to new music, sampling exotic cuisine and reading literature and poetry. An open person likes to have variety in his day-to-day life and craves novelty.”
Both openness and mental illness are associated with increased creativity and dopamine release. In fact, a Swedish study from 2010 revealed that the dopamine system in highly creative adults were similar in some ways to those found persons with schizophrenia.
The association between mental illness and personality traits is not surprising. There have been similar links found between personality traits such as impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors and the propensity to engage in substance abuse, as well. What has not been previously known is that there are actual genetic convergences which are likely the basis for this association.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology