Who am I? Why am I like this? Why do some people habitually lie, or take silly risks, or fail dismally to resist temptation? We all crave to understand ourselves and those around us. Countless personality tests, theories and systems have evolved to help us classify, describe and generally sort people out, ranging from meticulous measuring instruments and psychoanalytic speculations to bizarre quackery and muddle-headed mysticism. Yet all these systems merely describe the way people are rather than attempt to explain why. The latest research in neuroscience and genetics is beginning to change this. Neuroscientists are now able to untangle the complex neural networks that give rise to 'whole person' characteristics to examine how one brain differs from another, and how such differences produce the enduring, characteristic behaviours we call personality. In tandem with this, genetic research is fast piecing together links between gene mutations and particular behaviours. Risk-taking, addiction, bonding, ruthlessness, courage, kindness and compulsive violence have all been linked with specific variations in the genome.
In between lie the brain processes which actually produce the behaviour. When all three are aligned - genes, brain, and behaviour - we will finally have a fully grounded, predictive portrait of the individual. Drawing on the very latest neuroscience and genetic research, Dr Rita Carter explores how and why personality evolved and how it has come to be structured universally along just five dimensions, as well as the prospects for transforming personality through brain manipulation in the future.