Most experts agree that neurotransmitters and chemicals modulate brain activity in predictable patterns and influence how we humans act and react to the world around us. Three primary neurotransmitters that appear to be more involved with our personalities than others are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Dopamine is a basic modulator of attention, motivation, pain and pleasure and regulates how we behave. Serotonin modulates obsession, compulsions and psychological well-being and regulates how we feel. Norepinephrine is involved in focused thinking, mental activity, alertness, and energy and regulates how we think. For all of us, each neurotransmitter’s production, or level, is either high, medium, or low. Apparent levels can also be determined by the length of a neurotransmitter’s pathway in our brain.
Some experts disagree with the above premise. They do not believe that the neurotransmitters noted are the ones primarily involved with personalities, or that humans are genetically predisposed to have high, medium, or low levels. Conversely, many others state that genetic predispositions are factors that can cause low, medium or high levels. For example, a May 9, 2015 article in Psychology Today states that around 20% of the population is likely more sensitive in nature. The article cites findings from the University of British Columbia and Cornell University neuroscientists who discovered that human genes may influence how sensitive certain people are to emotional information.
Furthermore, the researchers determined that some people have a genetic variation called ADRA2b, which influences the norepinephrine neurotransmitter. ADRA2b is linked to heightened activity in certain brain areas that can trigger intense emotional sensitivity and responses. The research study also stated that there is reciprocal activity between norepinephrine and serotonergic and dopaminergic systems, which refer to serotonin and dopamine production, respectively.
Several additional resources validate that neurotransmitter levels are directly related to personality types. In his book, The Edge Effect, Dr. Eric Braverman shows how four main neurotransmitter or chemical levels in the brain can determine our personality profile. To validate this, he used a quantitative electroencephalogram (EEG) called BEAM (Brain Electrical Activity Mapping). Some skeptics question Braverman’s research and even his credibility, but his studies do appear to be thorough and match research conducted by two Ph.D. neuroscientists that I personally know are quite reputable.
What are the four neurotransmitters or chemicals Braverman researched?
Dopamine is an assertive “power” neurotransmitter that dominates our frontal lobe. Braverman found that those with high dopamine levels enjoy power, theories, language precision, and strategy.
GABA is found in our temporal lobe. Those with high “calming” GABA levels are more traditional and conventional, dependable and punctual, organized and confident. GABA is an “inhibitory” neurotransmitter that can lower “excitatory” ones, most especially norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine makes use more alert and ready for active body movement, which increases our energy use. Its effect can be offset by GABA and acetylcholine, which act on most of the same organs to make us more conducive to calmness, rest, recovery, and food digestion.
Acetylcholine is related to motor and memory functions and is produced in the parietal lobes. Braverman says that individuals with high levels are more creative, empathetic, authentic, and benevolent. As noted above, it can affect our norepinephrine level. Other studies show a direct connection from this chemical to introversion and extroversion. Introverts apparently have long acetylcholine pathways. For extroverts, it’s shorter. Visualize a hose pumping water into your brain. You won’t necessarily have a higher “level” of water with a longer hose, but it will take longer to fill up your brain. That’s why introverts can handle large crowds temporarily but eventually grow weary of them.
Serotonin is in the occipital lobe and is associated with delta waves. Those with high serotonin are playful, adventurous, optimistic, achievement-oriented, and have a positive mental attitude.
Given the typical unhealthy American diet, can taking various supplements improve our personality dispositions? The answer appears to “yes.” When we are above or below our optimal levels for the neurotransmitters and chemicals noted above, the side effects can be anxiety, weight gain, depression, chronic fatigue, insomnia, migraine headaches, attention and learning disorders, panic attacks, severe PMS, upset stomach, and so on. Some doctors prescribe Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa, Wellbutrin, etc., which are essentially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or the like. These can tweak our neurotransmitter biochemistry, but I recommend avoiding these at all cost.
Most of these nootropic “mind drugs” artificially increase your serotonin level via the synapse to provide a temporary chemical messaging system improvement. The problem is, these drugs can deplete your serotonin reserves rather than increase your level because SSRIs increase the MAO enzyme, which is a bad thing. Also, they contain ingredients that may be harmful depending upon your profile type. One size does not usually fit all, which is why most of these have up to 50% negative reviews on Amazon.
Your gut contains a majority of your serotonin, with the rest created in your central nervous system. You can increase or regulate your level by taking the supplement 5-HTP and consuming more L-tryptophan, carbohydrates, selenium, and folic acid. Contrary to popular belief, low carb and super high protein diets can lower your serotonin level and cause cravings, depression, excessive snacking, PMS, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The latter affects more women than men, who have around 33% less serotonin than men. If you need to decrease your level, a low carb diet might help, but caution is recommended.
Your dopamine level helps maintain desire, attention, awareness, movement, and hormone levels. Low levels can lead to attention deficit disorder (ADD), Parkinson’s disease, and even schizophrenia. L-tyrosine is a precursor that helps increase this level and can be found in turkey, chicken, dairy products, fish, avocados, almonds, bananas, soy, legumes, cottage cheese, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters require foundational building blocks, such as amino acid precursors. You can’t just pop a pill for these as your stomach will just dissolve them and not send them intact to your bloodstream. You can, however, take amino acid supplements for some deficiencies.
The first step in determining your optimal levels is to discover your neuroscience-based personality profile. This is a huge step beyond profiling based solely on behavioral observation models, such as Myers-Briggs or the OPQ-32. You can discover your profile by visiting NEURO86.com