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Personality and the Brain

Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Roth

HENN Akademie, July 5, 2007

It is generally believed that one’s attitude can be best changed by putting forward arguments that are as understandable as possible. Who wants to ignore clear-cut logic? However, reality is quite different: our fellow human beings either do not accept our abundantly clear arguments at all, or they are convinced by them verbally or even superficially and change their behaviour but only in the short term.

Neuroscientific and psychological investigations show that the changeability of a human being is deeply anchored in the personality structure, through an interplay of genetic “precepts”, early childhood imprints and psycho-social experiences during childhood and adolescence. Rational as well as consciously-emotional considerations are only effective in the long-term if these considerations are reconciled with subconscious emotional and affective motives. These are essentially determined by highly individual and usually unconscious risk assessments and expectations of reward. Changeability is generally significantly reduced by the time of adulthood and it is at this point in time that the person changes to the extent the subconscious motive structures allow. As established by the Berlin psychologist, Jens Asendorpf, as older adolescents and adults, we would rather seek out those environmental conditions that match our personality than actively adapt our personality to these conditions.

Major changes are only possible in adulthood through (1) brainwashing, abrupt or otherwise profound experiences, (2) a new and challenging partnership, (3) psychotherapy, which may take an accordingly long period, (4) frequent effects that are always targeted in the same direction. But limits are set with respect to such encroachments by the personality of the human being.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Roth studied from 1963 to 1969 as a scholar of the German National Academic Foundation in Münster and Rome, initially in musicology, German studies and philosophy and obtained his doctorate in 1969. His second degree was in biology, amongst others in Berkeley, California, which he completed in 1974 with a further post-doctoral degree in zoology at the University of Münster. Since 1976 he has been lecturing as a professor in behavioural physiology at the University of Bremen and since 1989 he has been a director of the institute for brain research there. In 1997 he was appointed the founding rector of the Hanse Scientific College.

Gerhard Roth
Prof. Dr. Dr.