By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“It had been traditionally assumed that personality traits are relatively stable entities, but more recent research demonstrates that personality, including disposition towards mindfulness, can change over time as a result of life experiences or through mindfulness practice.” – Yi‑Yuan Tang
The genes dictate all of the chemical processes in our bodies including brain development and plasticity. One gene, in particular, encodes the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It is a protein found in the brain and spinal cord that promotes the survival of nerve cells by playing a role in the growth, maturation, and maintenance of these cells. In the brain, the BDNF protein is active at the connections between nerve cells (synapses), where cell-to-cell communication occurs. The synapses can change and adapt over time in response to experience, a characteristic called neuroplasticity. The BDNF protein helps regulate neuroplasticity, which is important for learning and memory.
Since BDNF is involved in the development of the nervous system, and the nervous system, in part, determines our personality characteristics, it would seem reasonable to suspect that the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with personality. In addition, since BDNF is involved in the plasticity of the nervous system, its ability to change and adapt to the environment and experience, it would seem reasonable to suspect that the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with variations in brain neuroplasticity. The genes underlying BDNF production have a major variant that is present in approximately 25% of the population. It is possible that this variant may be responsible, in part, for differences between people in personality and neuroplasticity.
This reasoning taken together with the facts that mindfulness practices, including meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong, are known to change the nervous system through neuroplasticity and are known to change some aspects of personality, it would seem reasonable to suspect that different variants of the genes underlying BDNF production would be associated with differences in the ability of mind body practices to change the brain and personality. This complex logic leads to the idea that differences in BDNF gene variants may produce different personality changes in response to mind-body practices.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mind-Body Training on Personality and Behavioral Activation and Inhibition System According to BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism.” See:
or below or view the full text of the study at:
Jung and colleagues examine this hypothesis. They recruited a group of participants who regularly practiced Brain Wave Vibration, a practice that is a movement based meditation resembling yoga, martial arts, and meditation. They also recruited a group who did not engage in mind-body practices. Both groups were separated into subgroups based upon whether they carried the normal or the variant of the BDNF gene. All participants were measured for personality and behavioral activation/inhibition.
They found that the BDNF gene variant affected personality with control participants who had the variant higher in neuroticism and lower in extroversion. Neuroticism is known to be associated with personality problems and mental illness. So, these results suggest that the BDNF gene variant produces personality problems. On the other hand, those participants who engaged in mind-body practices and had the BDNF gene variant were higher in extroversion and openness to experience than the control participants who also had the BDNF gene variant. These results are complex but indicate firstly that the genes are involved in the determination of personality characteristics and secondly that they modify the ability of mind-body practices to change personality. They also show that engagement in mind-body practices can, to some extent, help to correct personality problems resulting from the individual’s inheritance.
So, practice mindfulness and improve personality characteristics regardless of your genetic inheritance.
“All the benefits of meditation arise from experiencing our mind as more workable. We can focus and guide it better and we can also let it go. More dance, less straitjacket.” – Barry Boyce
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Jung, Y.-H., Lee, U. S., Jang, J. H., & Kang, D.-H. (2016). Effects of Mind-Body Training on Personality and Behavioral Activation and Inhibition System According to BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism. Psychiatry Investigation, 13(3), 333–340. http://doi.org/10.4306/pi.2016.13.3.333
OBJECTIVE: It has been known that mind-body training (MBT) can affect personality and behavior system as well as emotional well-being, but different effects of MBT on them has not been reported according to BDNF genetic polymorphism.
METHODS: Healthy subjects consisted of 64 subjects and the MBT group who practiced meditation regularly consisted of 72 practitioners. Participants completed neuroticism-extraversion-openness (NEO) Five-Factor Inventory and Behavioral Activation System/Behavioral Inhibition System (BAS/BIS) scales. All subjects were genotyped for the BDNF Val66Met polymorphism.
RESULTS: In the same genotypes of the BDNF Val/Val+Val/Met group, MBT group showed the increased Extraversion (p=0.033) and the increased Openness to Experience (p=0.004) compared to the control group. Also, in the same Met/Met carriers, MBT group exhibited the increase of Extraversion (p=0.008), the reduction of Neuroticism (p=0.002), and the increase of Openness to Experience (p=0.008) compared to the control group. In the same genotypes of the BDNF Val/Val+Val/Met group, MBT group showed the decreased BAS-Reward Responsiveness (p=0.016) and the decrease of BIS (p=0.004) compared to the control group. In the BDNF Met/Met group, MBT group increased BAS-Fun Seeking (p=0.045) and decreased BIS (p=0.013) compared to the control group.
CONCLUSION: MBT would differently contribute to NEO personality and BAS/BIS according to BDNF genetic polymorphism, compensating for different vulnerable traits based on each genotype.