Intellect as Distinct From Openness: Differences Revealed by fMRI of Working Memory

Colin G. DeYoung, Noah A. Shamosh, Adam E. Green, Todd S. Braver, Jeremy R. Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Relatively little is known about the neural bases of the Big Five personality trait Openness/Intellect. This trait is composed of 2 related but separable aspects, Openness to Experience and Intellect. On the basis of previous behavioral research (C. G. DeYoung, J. B. Peterson, & D. M. Higgins, 2005), the authors hypothesized that brain activity supporting working memory (WM) would be related to Intellect but not to Openness. To test this hypothesis, the authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan a sample of 104 healthy adults as they performed a difficult WM task. Intellect (and not Openness) was found to correlate with WM accuracy and with accuracy-related brain activity, in left lateral anterior prefrontal cortex and posterior medial frontal cortex. Neural activity in these regions mediated the association between Intellect and WM performance, implicating these regions in the neural substrate of Intellect. Intellect was also correlated significantly with scores on tests of intelligence and WM capacity, but the association of Intellect with brain activity could not be entirely explained by cognitive ability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-892
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • intellect
  • intelligence
  • openness
  • prefrontal cortex
  • working memory


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