Neuroscience – the study of brain circuitry to understand personality

At a recent conference I attended, the topic of neuroscience and its relationship to personality was presented.   This is a quick snapshot of the topic – mostly because I think it’s another example of understanding yourself better, and also understanding those whom you regularly interface with better. Better understanding myself allows me to understand what I need in my retirement life to make it my best life. And why some things other people need are so totally wrong for me!

At this conference, Dr. Helen Fishers spoke about how scientific research indicates that personality is 40% biology (nature) and 60% culture (nurture). Her recent scientific research has linked the biological aspect of personality to the levels of 4 neural systems in the brain, and your (individual) biological fingerprint (DNA) defines those levels. She has used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) of the brain to physically observe exactly how the personality traits she measures align with the four broad neural systems – the dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen systems captures more info on the personality type assessment, but simplistically, a language of four colors/shapes is used to represent the four brain systems. Everyone has the four broad systems, but the intensity and specific traits are different in each person. One system often dominates and shows up, both positive and negative, in how we interface with others – how we communicate and influence, give and receive information, and even in the words we use.

Here is a snapshot of the four systems:

Dopamine = excitability Serotonin = traditional Testosterone= competitiveness Estrogen = rumination
Idea Generation & Curiosity Process & Principles Directness & Strategy Empathy & Context
Born free Pillar of society Shoot for the stars Philosopher king
Experiential, risk taking, energetic, sensation seeking, optimistic, enthusiastic, independent, impulsive, open minded, reckless, manic, active, unpredictable, adventure, spontaneous, passion, fun, travel, live life to the fullest, rules are made to be broken, extremes, loves surprises, possibilities, inventive, future oriented Structure, familiar, conventional, follow the rules, calm, controlled, cautious, modest, social norms, do the right thing, orderly, fact-based, literal, logistical intelligence, organized, loyal, dutiful, dependable, importance of belonging, close-minded, modest, importance of values, respect, trust, procedures, efficiency, details, concrete thinkers Direct, intent on achievement, ambition, tough-minded, strategic intelligence, rank focused, dominance matching, skeptical, daring, emotionally contained, competitive, sense of fairness, bold, decisive, fact based, demanding, get to the point, aloof, can’t read body language, not empathetic, uncompromising, self-disciplined, brutally honest Big picture thinker, contextual, holistic, tolerate ambiguity, linguistic skills, nurturing, trusting, introspective, seeks harmony, inclusive, compassionate, emotionally expressive, reads people, can be scattered, gullible, indecisive, placating, consensus builder, hypersensitive, unforgiving, see meaning in everything, team work

Yellow Squiggleyellow squiggle


Blue Squareblue square

Red Trianglered triangle

Green Circlegreen circle

When we interact with someone with a significantly different personality, conflict can arise. Think about a conversation between a consider-all-the-possibilities and crazy idea generation of a dopamine-dominant personality with a get-to-the-point, fact-based, decisive testosterone-dominant personality. Or consider a procedure based, follow the rules, controlled serotonin-dominant personality having a meeting with a holistic, consensus seeking, emotionally expressive estrogen-dominant personality.

There’s an on-line quiz to figure out your dominance. But in the past I’ve just used the visual cues with teams as an icebreaker:   Using images drawn like this, I ask “which symbol do you relate to the most?” Most people can quickly respond to that question. And then I’ve talked to the team about the strengths each personality style each brings to the team; it has always been a fun icebreaker for new teams.


four shapes

I always thought with this tool that I’m a rhombus – mostly a blue square, but with some of the sharp points of the red triangle. (That concept also displays the math geek inside me.) And I learned to value my yellow-squiggle and green-circle team mates.

In the on-line NeuroColor assessment, it concurred that I have equal Blue-Red dominance.   You can see the organization blue-side of me in the above square summary table, and the red – “so what” side of me in trying to share what to do with this information! What was a bit of a surprise was I do have some yellow (future oriented thinking) and green (contextual thinking).

Everyone has a unique profile, and if you understand yourself and others better, you can adjust your communication style to better connect.  My blue-red helps me understand my need for structure and planning;  my hubby’s yellow dominance explains his love of free-flow days!

So, what’s your color?

And what are the colors of your best friend, you spouse, and/ or your kids?

17 thoughts on “Neuroscience – the study of brain circuitry to understand personality

  1. The URL for the quiz is:
    I was interested to discover that I scored 69% Explorer, 67% Negotiator, 65% Director, and 38% Builder. (But maybe that was because I was saying to myself, no, no, no, don’t let me be the blue square or the red triangle. Please let me be the yellow squiggle.) My last job, which burned me out, had a lot of red triangle and blue square components in it.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. I am so blue square/red triangle. I can’t even answer the questions the other way without my psyche going no, no, no! Which I did so I could read the descriptors on those profiles and it was so hard to check those boxes. Yeah, I took it normal (no surprise – Builder/Director) and then took it opposite to see what the Explorer/Negotiator write ups looked like in this version of the quiz.

      I admire the skills of both Explorers and Negotiators and for awhile tried to be an Explorer…. but felt stressed out and like a failure. I’m learning it’s OK to be a “structure girl” ….and take adventures more gently and work on relationships more analytically. Sounds weird, but true to me! Are you a natural yellow squiggle yearning to be free?


  2. This is interesting Pat. I’ve taken lots of personality tests over my lifetime, including the Meyer-Briggs 3 times and the DISC twice. According to the previous tests, I have an unusual personality, which I used to just hate because I felt like I didn’t really fit in with most people. Now that I’m older and wiser, I embrace those findings. As you point out self-awareness and acceptance can help you map out the retirement lifestyle that works for YOU. We all have bits and pieces of all the personality types, mine is just more evenly spread among the four colors/shapes. No one dominates. As Lynn said “neat post!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve done many through the years as well – the MegaCorp I worked for went through a new “best practice” one every 3-5 years. I don’t know why I find these things fascinating, given my blue-dominant logical, analytical brain. What I always like about this was the simple color-shape metaphors. Another fun one for me is the “what archetype are you” and yes, you’ll be blend of 2-3 but for most people, one tends to dominate at a certain time.


  3. I can see bits of myself in all of the shapes and descriptions. I’ve taken so many of these personality test over the years that I can pretty much predict the results. Like you said, the important thing is to understand how these various combinations of profiles influence you, your spouse, and others you interact with throughout your day. Interesting post.

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  4. Hi Pat,
    I’m pretty much equally blue square and green circle. That’s wasn’t overly surprising for me. The same characteristics have come through in every test I’ve ever taken whether that’s True Colours or multiple intelligences or the Myers-Briggs.
    But just like in True Colours where I’m a bit of an orange wannabe, I so wish I had more of the yellow squiggle, especially now when I’m trying to loosen up enough to take some risks in painting and drawing.
    I find these assessments fascinating, not only as confirmation of who I am but in the offering of possibilities of who I might become. Most scientists would say that it’s not possible to change your natural orientations and I suspect that’s true, but a big part of RAW NEWS is me experimenting to see whether or not I can bring more of those wished-for characteristics into my daily life, even if aren’t my natural go-to inclinations. We shall see!
    Thanks for the post, Pat. Gotta love the new learning, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karen – like you, I find this stuff fascinating. I’m also with you in that I think you CAN develop skills in other areas. My natural orientation is not green circle at all, but I’ve learned listening & team-building skills that help me be more empathetic. They are not my natural skill set and take conscious effort, but they are now there (and often exhaust me). So I think you can build in more yellow-squiggle skills. I’m sure you’ve read Julia Cameron’s The Artist Within; I’m sure there are some techniques in there to stimulate the exploration side of things – you might want to revisit. Are you following any bloggers who combine writing and sketching? I just started following John P Weiss – he does this combination – might inspire you.


  5. This is very interesting research, Pat. I haven’t gone online yet to take this ‘test’, but at a quick glance, the yellow squiggles and green circle appeal to me the most. I’m interested to see what the online test says.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna – If you think you’re mostly “yellow squiggle and green circle “, you probably are! Hmm, that sounds a bit like a chartreuse blob…. nothing mean intended! I love this kind of stuff, because it helps me recognize the strengths of others and appreciate the diversity they bring to the table.


      1. Chartreuse Blob? That does not sound complimentary any way that you take it.
        As part of Professional Development when I worked, I was involved in numerous workshops aimed at helping us to better understand our personalities (and those of our colleagues). Each and every time I was the person in the center of the room (when we were supposed to end up in one of four corners). Even trying to cheat so that I could be in a corner (any corner!) always brought me back dead center! Reading the above descriptions carefully I probably am a balance of each. If there is predominance it is likely Green Circle and Blue Square (with an admiration for those who are truly Yellow Squiggles). I could not find a quick and easy online test to see what it suggested.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. When I googled chartreuse blob it came up with lovely pictures of fluffy fishing flies. 🙂 (BTW – Chartreuse if one of my favorite colors – bright and cheerful). It was not meant to be derogatory at all!

        Kathy also say’s she’s a combination of all 4 elements. I think folks who have all 4 balanced have a better time connecting with everyone – they “get it” with all types of styles. I’ve always wanted to have more “green” in me. If you’re familiar with MyersBriggs, at one point I actually scored zero on “F”. Probably why I didn’t think chartreuse blob was an insult. sigh.

        It’s interesting that you admire the true Yellow Squiggles… many folks don’t admire these skills in others but see them as distractions in the workplace. Even in an R&D culture, the true yellow squiggle folks had a hard time in my MegaCorp. With my strong blue, I still have a hard time with their inability to make a decision (hubby is a yellow squiggle).


  6. Fascinating, Pat! I’d like to go online to see exactly how I turn out. I imagine I’m a lot like you – but perhaps predominantly red triangle, with the sides pushed out to add some blue square – maybe a little trapezoid-ish…On the Voyage, I’m trying to develop my squigglish-ness, and my best friend is definitely a green circle! This was a neat post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this kind of stuff… and wondered if others would find it of interest. I’m glad you liked it. I have IRL friends who are green circles, yellow squiggles, and red triangles. Many recognize my blue-squareness and often good-naturedly tease me about it. I don’t think I’ll ever have a lot of fellow squiggle-ness myself…but it’s cool you’re trying to develop some of that in yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

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