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Executive Functions and Personality Features: a Circular Interpretative Paradigm



The study describes the relationship between personality traits and executive functions within a circularly based paradigm.
Executive Functions and Personality Features:
a Circular Interpretative Paradigm
Raffaele Sperandeo
SiPGI Postgraduate School of Integrated Gestalt
Psychotherapy, D.M. 12.10.2007
Torre Annunziata, Naples, Italy
Enrico Moretto
SiPGI Postgraduate School of Integrated Gestalt
Psychotherapy, D.M. 12.10.2007
Torre Annunziata, Naples, Italy
Gesualda Baldo
SiPGI Postgraduate School of Integrated Gestalt
Psychotherapy, D.M. 12.10.2007
Torre Annunziata, Naples, Italy
Silvia dell’Orco
Department of Human Science
Università della Basilicata, Italy
Mauro Maldonato
Department of Human Science
Università della Basilicata, Italy
Abstract— The study describes the relationship between
personality traits and executive functions within a circularly based
Keywords— Executive Functions; Personality Features;
I. I
From the first studies on subjects with frontal lobe injuries,
EF were seen as the product of the activity of these brain areas
and, as such, were described as complex functions of
adaptation to the environment by emphasizing the relationship
between them and personality [1].
The EF system is basically responsible in dealing with new
tasks, interrupting inadequate automatic responses, comparing
different behavioral options, choosing the option which is most
suitable for the immediate context. The EF also begin
performing the selected program, focusing on it until it is
completed, monitoring and correcting where necessary during
the performance. [2] The cortical areas involved in executive
control are accessible to conscious awareness and are
characterized by high levels of plasticity. They can evolve and
change throughout the entire lifetime by integrating new
sensory-motor and relational information and generating
continuously innovative plans, thoughts and behaviors. [3]
Considered from an anatomical neurological profile, the close
interaction between prefrontal areas, pre-motor areas, the
parietal cortex and the angular gyrus is of great importance.
These connections suggest that the executive system is a polar
modal network (sensory, motor and relational) that is
responsible for the production of complex, goal-oriented
behaviors. [4, 5] From this point of view, the executive
functions and the underlying neuronal network appear to
overlap the concept of personality which, in its adaptive
expressions, can be described as the creative Skill of an
individual to adapt to the environment and to interact in
relational social contexts. [6]
Modern EF studies, based on the paradigm of cognitive
neuroscience, however, have focused on 6 neuropsychological
functions, considering them only in a cognitive context. Only
some studies focused on personality disorders (PD) by
providing a hierarchical interpretation of some of the
symptoms of PDs that are derived from EF defects [7].
From the beginning of the last century, Luria has proposed
considering an organization of EF in complex neural networks
that include the affective and motor cerebral areas [8].
Numerous recent opinions that have supported this model are
paving the way for an ecological approach in studying higher
cognitive functions [9].
Research regarding the relationship between EF and
personality traits is currently focused on the attempt to explain
some of the pathological character traits as a consequence of
frontal function deficits. [10] Without denying the clinical
value of studies that link trauma, executive deficits, and
personality disorders in a linear causal chain, it is fundamental
to integrate this classical model with circular causative patterns
that best fit clinical data and empirical evidence.
8th IEEE International Conference on Cognitive Infocommunications (CogInfoCom 2017) • September 11-14, 2017 • Debrecen, Hungary
978-1-5386-1264-4/17/$31.00 ©2017 IEEE
This study is part of the effective computing (AC) alveo
(range) Research considered from this perspective is proposed
by R. Picard at the MIT in the late 1990s; its goal is to consent
machines to perceive and show (present) human qualities [11].
An objective of AC systems is to simulate the functioning of
the personality as an affective process based on the inter-
human interaction of psychological and emotional states [12].
Our study intends to identify character styles as affective
processes emerging at the intermediate level of experience in a
circular function between environmental experience and its
enacted cognitive processing (aimed at action). Here, this
function is described as the effect that the circularity of the
environment-intermediate stage-action has on the genesis of
the character traits of an individual.
Whenever a situation requires a choice, decision-making is
run by a fronto-parietal motor cognitive network that is our
brain thinking. Items of a personality questionnaire that
require the subject to say whether or not they adhere to a
certain behavior or thought trigger the activation of the
neuronal network involved in the actual execution of the
described behavior. The activation of this network gives rise
to the formulation of a concept characterized by a certain
degree of abstraction or abstractness but incarnate in the
ideomotor processes of the subject that responds to the
questionnaire. Some items of a personality questionnaire
describe psychic and behavioral processes in which the
Functions are involved. In this regard, the study of individual
items of a questionnaire represents a way to correlate
personality to the functions of the frontal lobes more
ecologically and effectively than the traits and the dimensions
of temperament and character that are constructed with
artificial statistical methods.
In a sample of 131 outpatients (55 male and 76 female)
signed in to a mental health clinic in 2015 and 2016, executive
functions were assessed through the Frontal Assessment
Battery (FAB) and the traits of temperament and character
using the Temperament and Character Inventory TCI).
The FAB is a short instrument that extensively evaluates
frontal functions. It consists of 6 sub-tests, each of which
explores frontal lobe correlated functions in line with the
current view of the EF [13]. These are:
• Conceptualization (explored through a similarity test);
• Mental flexibility (explored with a phonemic fluency
• Motor programming (explored through the Luria series);
• Susceptibility to interference (assessed by testing with
Conflicting instructions);
• The Inhibitory Control (assessed with a go-no-go test);
• Autonomy from the environment (assessed by grasping
The overall score of FAB describes the global efficiency of
EF. The subjects that do not achieve the cut of the value of 13,
show a defective activity of prefrontal areas [14] .
The TCI is a self-administered questionnaire of 240 items
that evaluates four dimensions of temperament and three
dimensions of character with different subscales for each
dimension. The latest version of the TCI (TCI R) differs from
the previous one because the true / false answers were replaced
by a Likert 5-point scale from absolute false to absolutely true.
The epta-factorial structure foreseen by Cloninger has been
substantially confirmed, as was confirmed the predictive
validity of the instrument with regard to personality disorders.
Although the small sample size examined does not allow
the generalization of the results, it is evident that the two
instruments TCI and TCI R can be overlapped from a
psychometric point of view even with regard to the poor
internal consistency of the subscales. Furthermore, in the case
of the TCI R, a satisfactory set of data is still not available. For
these reasons, we opted to use the first version of the TCI, and
within it only the 240 descriptive items in order to attribute
them ecological value as described in the methodological
paragraph of this paper [15].
The scores obtained in the 6 FAB executive tasks (ET)
were related to TCI items. Positive or negative correlated
items with each specific ET were evaluated for their
homogeneity by analyzing both their internal consistency with
the Crombach alpha test and their clinical homogeneity.
Each of Items' sets was found homogeneous with respect
to the personality features the test (Crombach’s) describes.
The sum of the Items scores in each of the homogeneous sets
was used in a logistic regression test as an explanatory
variable while the efficiency of the related executive task was
used as a dependent variable.
A sample of 131 subjects that had requested psychotherapy
treatment for non-clinical psychosocial issues.
Patients who showed diagnosis of personality disorders or a
diagnostic history of affective, anxiety and psychotic disorders
were excluded from the study. Patients with cognitive
impairment, neurodegenerative diseases and history of head
trauma were also excluded. All subjects were informed and
accepted that the data collected for the clinical evaluation
would be used in scientific studies according to the
confidentiality of sensitive information and the assurance that
the use of the data would not modify the prescribed treatment.
The subjects of the sample had a mean age of 33.91 years (SD
= 12.25) with a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 66 years. 78
subjects were secondary school graduates, 29 were university
graduates. 83 subjects were unmarried; 50 subjects were
unemployed. From a socio-demographic perspective, the
sample group is representative of the average middle class
found on the Neapolitan territory.
R. Sperandeo et al. • Executive Functions and Personality Features: a Circular Interpretative Paradigm
V. R
Table 1 describes the results of the study. The 6 executive
tasks evaluated by the FAB were correlated, according to their
efficiency, to a set of TCI items; This correlation was both
positive and negative. For example, the first
"conceptualization" task resulted negatively related to 15 TCI
items and positively related to 5 items.
In this sense, subjects who responded "yes" to one of the
other negatively related items showed scores in the first task
which are rather lower than the norm. On the other hand,
subjects, who answered "yes" to the positively related items
showed normal scores on the first task. (Table 1)
The items negatively or positively correlated to each of the
FAB's tasks make up homogeneous sets that describe the
character modes that are psychologically related to the
executive functions evaluated by the FAB. For example, items
negatively related to the first task describe temperamental
modes of functioning which are characterized by discomfort
when confronted with novelty, with risk situations and the need
for gratification, and as regards character, they are
distinguished by a low level of cooperativeness and low self-
Therefore, if a subject responds "yes" to a larger number of
items in a particular set, that subject expresses most of the
character modes described by that set.
For each of the sets, the score of the items that compose it
has been added, and the obtained values have been used as
explanatory variables in a logistic regression test where the
dependent variables were the six executive tasks of the FAB.
The logistic regression test showed a significant link between
the sets of items and the executive tasks related to them; the
link was particularly relevant for the tasks: "conceptualization",
"mental flexibility" and "environmental autonomy". The
presence of a "yes" answer to a item will vary the likelihood
that the subject achieves, in the related task, a score below
77%, 79% and 87% respectively, with a dimension of the effect
between 50% and 86%. (Table 2)
First of all our study shows that the specificity of the
relationship between homogeneous sets of descriptive items of
personality and precise executive tasks indicates that EFs are
independent processes, even though they are interconnected as
proposed by Goldstein [16].
The Items that make up the homogeneous sets correlated
with FE describe traits of non-pathological personality. The
presence of multiple "yes" responses within a specific set of
items is closely related to a causal relationship to the deficiency
of the related executive tasks, or to their efficiency, but this
link does not appear in any pathology.
For example, subjects who fall into the FE defined as
"conceptualization" respond "yes" to many items negatively
related to it; however, these subjects have no clinically relevant
pathologies or features either for personality or for
neuropsychological functioning.
Subjects show a neuropsychological performance that is
based on their style of adaptation to the environment; In turn,
the neuropsychological performance reinforces the adaptation
style by creating an individual pattern of operation (closely
related to interaction with the environment) without interfering
in the pathology of the character. For example, an individual
who does little to co-operate with others, who avoids novelties
and takes little risk, probably has less need to conceptualize
semantic links between certain types of mental objects (task
conceptualization); This function is less used (less practiced)
and therefore less efficient, and circularly reinforces the
avoiding style of this subject. The statistically significant
linkage found in our study, between FE and normal character
aspects, seems to describe a circular mechanism of causal
action to explain the mechanisms of adaptation of the
individual to the environment. The model which comes forth
from the study is not compatible with a simple, linear
relationship which exists between neuropsychological
deficiency and personality disorders, which is traditionally
used to explain the pathology.
The presence of positive or negative relationships between
normal personality functions and the efficiency of executive
functions outlines the existence of a circular (non-hierarchical)
relationship between these variables. In this sense, EF deficits
are not at the origin of pathological personality traits, but rather
the FE have a two-way relationship with the dimensions of
normal personalities whose expression is enhanced or
weakened, and, in turn, sustains or hinders them. This
information (point) is extremely important for the structuring
of computational systems that intend to emulate the
characteristic functioning of human beings. Affective
functioning seems to emerge from the interactive process
between the individual and the environment and is proposed as
a structure on an intermediate level with both repetitive and
flexyble characteristics. In computational networks, the middle
layer of nodes is the heart of the self-learning process and can
store the interaction mechanism between the subject and the
environment rather than the static response of the subject to the
environmental stimuli. It is thus possible to describe the shape
and function of an individual's character considering it as the
emerging quality of the encounter between a body in action and
its environment [17].
The present analysis is a pilot study that requires an
extension of the number of participants in order to confirm the
relationships observed and their statistical structure.
It is fundamental to increase the sample size and apply
experimental customized designs so as to confirm the value of
these evidences.
8th IEEE International Conference on Cognitive Infocommunications (CogInfoCom 2017) • September 11-14, 2017 • Debrecen, Hungary
EF Task
TCI Items
Items (Spearman Rho)
Conceptualization 20(-0,21), 21(-021), 47(-0,21), 49(-0,18),
114(-0,23), 120(-0,20), 144(-0,23),149(-0,25),
178(-0,25),184(-0,18), 185(-0,18), 198(-0,18),
217(-0.18), 229(-0,21), 238(-0,17)
Negative Correlation
68(0,30), 145(0,18), 172(0,19), 199(0,25),
Positive Correlation
Mental flexibility 14(-0,25), 17(-0,22), 72(-0,21), 90(-0,21),
112(-0,29), 120(-0,18), 142(-0,24),218(-0,19),
Negative Correlation
43(0,20), 98(0,18), 116(0,17), 176(0,20),
Positive Correlation
Planning 29(-0,20), 75(-0,20), 88(-0,20), 194(-0,21),
Negative Correlation
Sensitivity to
14(-0,18), 25(-0,18), 42(-0,20), 44(-0,20), 71(-
0,19), 76(-0,20), 86(-0,18), 92(-0,17), 96(-
0,27), 132(-0,18), 141(-0,27), 148(-0,32),
157(-0,17), 167(-0,23), 237(-0,18)
Negative Correlation
Inhibitory control 5(0.24), 18(-0.17), 42(-0.18), 64(-0.18),
96(-0,20), 112(-0,34), 120(-0,19), 160(-0.27),
162(-0.17),198(-0.20), 235(-0.24)
Negative Correlation
3(0,22), 16(0,17), 158(0,26)
Positive Correlation
90(-0,21), 232(-0,21)
Negative Correlation
1(0,24), 15(0,19), 35(0,19), 58(0,19), 74(0,18),
85(0,25), 101(0,30), 174(0,20), 179(0,23),
215(0,18), 221(0,22), 228(0,19)
Positive Correlation
Set of
B Esp
-0.51 -0.35 0,71 0.5
0.44 0.77 2.17
-0.47 -0.24 0.79 0.72
0.33 0.79 2.2
Planning Negative
-0.33 -0.14 1.15 0.28
-0.52 -0.08 1.1 0.08
-0.53 -0.02 0.98 0.01
Environme Positive 0.41 0.87 2.39 0.86
Set of
B Esp
The authors would like to thank Bianca Tino for the
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Inferior parietal lobule (IPL) neurons were studied when monkeys performed motor acts embedded in different actions and when they observed similar acts done by an experimenter. Most motor IPL neurons coding a specific act (e.g., grasping) showed markedly different activations when this act was part of different actions (e.g., for eating or for placing). Many motor IPL neurons also discharged during the observation of acts done by others. Most responded differentially when the same observed act was embedded in a specific action. These neurons fired during the observation of an act, before the beginning of the subsequent acts specifying the action. Thus, these neurons not only code the observed motor act but also allow the observer to understand the agent's intentions.
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The Frontal Assessment Battery (FAB) is a short cognitive and behavioural six-subtest battery for the bedside screening of a global executive dysfunction; although recently devised, it is already extensively used thanks to its ease of administration and claimed sensitivity. The aim of the present study was to derive Italian normative values from a sample of 364 control subjects (215 women and 149 men) of different ages (mean: 57.4+/-17.9 years; range: 20-94 years) and educational level (mean: 10.4+/-4.3 years; range: 1-17 years); the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) was concurrently administered. Multiple linear regression analysis revealed significant effects for age and education whereas gender was not significant; thus, from the derived linear equation, a correction grid for FAB raw scores was built. Based on nonparametric techniques, inferential cut-off scores were subsequently determined and equivalent scores (ES) computed. Test-restest and interrater reliabilities were both satisfactory. Interestingly, MMSE was significantly correlated with FAB raw scores, whereas adjusted scores were not. The present data may improve the accuracy in the use of the FAB both for clinical and research purposes.
Planning. Attention. Memory. Self-regulation. These and other core cognitive and behavioral operations of daily life comprise what we know as executive functioning (EF). But despite all we know, the concept has engendered multiple, often conflicting definitions and its components are sometimes loosely defined and poorly understood. The Handbook of Executive Functioning cuts through the confusion, analyzing both the whole and its parts in comprehensive, practical detail for scholar and clinician alike. Background chapters examine influential models of EF, tour the brain geography of the executive system and pose salient developmental questions. A section on practical implications relates early deficits in executive functioning to ADD and other disorders in children and considers autism and later-life dementias from an EF standpoint. Further chapters weigh the merits of widely used instruments for assessing executive functioning and review interventions for its enhancement, with special emphasis on children and adolescents. Featured in the Handbook: The development of hot and cool executive function in childhood and adolescence. A review of the use of executive function tasks in externalizing and internalizing disorders. Executive functioning as a mediator of age-related cognitive decline in adults. Treatment integrity in interventions that target executive function. Supporting and strengthening working memory in the classroom to enhance executive functioning. The Handbook of Executive Functioning is an essential resource for researchers, scientist-practitioners and graduate students in clinical child, school and educational psychology; child and adolescent psychiatry; neurobiology; developmental psychology; rehabilitation medicine/therapy and social work. © Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014. All rights reserved.
The identification of emergent structures in dynamical systems is a major challenge in complex systems science. In particular, the formation of intermediate-level dynamical structures is of particular interest for what concerns biological as well as artificial network models. In this work, we present a new technique aimed at identifying clusters of nodes in a network that behave in a coherent and coordinated way and that loosely interact with the remainder of the system. This method is based on an extension of a measure introduced for detecting clusters in biological neural networks. Even if our results are still preliminary, we have evidence for showing that our approach is able to identify these “emerging things” in some artificial network models and that it is way more powerful than usual measures based on statistical correlation. This method will make it possible to identify mesolevel dynamical structures in network models in general, from biological to social networks.
In the past 25 years, the frontal lobes have dominated human neuroscience research. Functional neuroimaging studies have revealed their importance to brain networks involved in nearly every aspect of mental and cognitive functioning. Studies of patients with focal brain lesions have expanded on early case study evidence of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes associated with frontal lobe brain damage. The role of frontal lobe function and dysfunction in human development (in both children and older adults), psychiatric disorders, the dementias, and other brain diseases has also received rapidly increasing attention. In this Festschrift for Donald T. Stuss, one of the world's leading frontal lobe researchers, 14 researchers review and synthesize the current state of knowledge on frontal lobe function, including structural and functional brain imaging, brain network analysis, aging and dementia, traumatic brain injury, rehabilitation, attention, memory, and consciousness. The book therefore provides a state-of-the-art account of research in this exciting area, and also highlights a number of new findings by some of the world's top researchers.
The frontal lobes are central to human cognition and consciousness. This chapter reviews the history of research on frontal lobe function in three eras, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, characterized by clinical case studies and qualitative observations of animals with experimental frontal lesions, from the mid-20th century to the late 20th century, containing more organized experimental group studies of animals and humans with frontal lobe lesions, and the current era, characterized by a proliferation of detailed anatomical research using multimodal imaging and sophisticated cognitive science paradigms. Stuss and Benson's The Frontal Lobes, published in 1986, provided a springboard into the current era by cogently synthesizing anatomical and experimental human and animal research to date. The remainder of this chapter summarizes the contributions to this volume, a Festschrift for Don Stuss.
This desk reference provides a collection of normative data in child neuropsychology. It compiles published and previously unpublished normative data for the neuropsychological tests that are most commonly used with children. Besides presenting a collection of data, it also integrates concepts and models central to the neuropsychological assessment of children into the discussions of data. All these discussions have a practical, clinical focus. As background, the author considers the current status of child neuropsychology practice, test models, behavioral assessment techniques, observational data, procedures to optimize child evaluation, communication of results through the interpretive session and report writing, and preliminary assessment methods. Then she reviews the tests and data under the broad domains of intelligence, executive function, attention, language, motor and sensory-perceptual function, visuoperceptual, visuospatial, and visuoconstructional function, and learning and memory. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Speech-both overt and covert-facilitates working memory by creating and refreshing motor memory traces, allowing new information to be received and processed. Neuroimaging studies suggest a functional topography within the sub-regions of the cerebellum that subserve verbal working memory. Medial regions of the anterior cerebellum support overt speech, consistent with other forms of motor execution such as finger tapping, whereas lateral portions of the superior cerebellum support speech planning and preparation (e.g., covert speech). The inferior cerebellum is active when information is maintained across a delay, but activation appears to be independent of speech, lateralized by modality of stimulus presentation, and possibly related to phonological storage processes. Motor (dorsal) and cognitive (ventral) channels of cerebellar output nuclei can be distinguished in working memory. Clinical investigations suggest that hyper-activity of cerebellum and disrupted control of inner speech may contribute to certain psychiatric symptoms.