Individual Differences in Personality Predict How People Look at Faces

Susan B. Perlman, James P. Morris, Brent C. Vander Wyk, Steven R. Green, Jaime L. Doyle, Kevin A. Pelphrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background:Determining the ways in which personality traits interact with contextual determinants to shape social behavior remains an important area of empirical investigation. The specific personality trait of neuroticism has been related to characteristic negative emotionality and associated with heightened attention to negative, emotionally arousing environmental signals. However, the mechanisms by which this personality trait may shape social behavior remain largely unspecified.Methodology/Principal Findings:We employed eye tracking to investigate the relationship between characteristics of visual scanpaths in response to emotional facial expressions and individual differences in personality. We discovered that the amount of time spent looking at the eyes of fearful faces was positively related to neuroticism.Conclusions/Significance:This finding is discussed in relation to previous behavioral research relating personality to selective attention for trait-congruent emotional information, neuroimaging studies relating differences in personality to amygdala reactivity to socially relevant stimuli, and genetic studies suggesting linkages between the serotonin transporter gene and neuroticism. We conclude that personality may be related to interpersonal interaction by shaping aspects of social cognition as basic as eye contact. In this way, eye gaze represents a possible behavioral link in a complex relationship between genes, brain function, and personality.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0005952
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2009


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