Externalizing personality traits, empathy, and gray matter volume in healthy young drinkers

Judith Charpentier, Mario Dzemidzic, John West, Brandon G. Oberlin, William J.A. Eiler, Andrew J. Saykin, David A. Kareken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations


Externalizing psychopathology has been linked to prefrontal abnormalities. While clinically diagnosed subjects show altered frontal gray matter, it is unknown if similar deficits relate to externalizing traits in non-clinical populations. We used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to retrospectively analyze the cerebral gray matter volume of 176 young adult social to heavy drinkers (mean age=24.0±2.9, male=83.5%) from studies of alcoholism risk. We hypothesized that prefrontal gray matter volume and externalizing traits would be correlated. Externalizing personality trait components-Boredom Susceptibility-Impulsivity (BS/IMP) and Empathy/Low Antisocial Behaviors (EMP/LASB)-were tested for correlations with gray matter partial volume estimates (gmPVE). Significantly large clusters (pFWE<0.05, family-wise whole-brain corrected) of gmPVE correlated with EMP/LASB in dorsolateral and medial prefrontal regions, and in occipital cortex. BS/IMP did not correlate with gmPVE, but one scale of impulsivity (Eysenck I7) correlated positively with bilateral inferior frontal/orbitofrontal, and anterior insula gmPVE. In this large sample of community-dwelling young adults, antisocial behavior/low empathy corresponded with reduced prefrontal and occipital gray matter, while impulsivity correlated with increased inferior frontal and anterior insula cortical volume. These findings add to a literature indicating that externalizing personality features involve altered frontal architecture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-72
Number of pages9
JournalPsychiatry Research - Neuroimaging
StatePublished - Feb 28 2016


  • Alcohol
  • Frontal lobes
  • Impulsivity
  • MRI
  • Personality
  • VBM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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