Alex Shackman, University of Maryland
Abstract: Dispositional negativity—the tendency to experience and express more frequent, intense, or persistent negative affect—is a fundamental dimension of childhood temperament and adult personality. Individuals endowed with a more anxious, neurotic, or inhibited disposition are at risk for a wide range of adverse outcomes, from divorce to depression, imposing a staggering burden on public health and wealth, and drawing the attention of clinicians, researchers, and public policy makers. Yet, the neural systems underlying trait-like individual differences in dispositional negativity have only recently started to come into focus. Here, I will highlight data gleaned from studies of monkeys, children, and human adults. Using a combination of approaches—from neuroendocrine assays and genetic analyses to smartphone-based experience sampling and multimodal neuroimaging—this work provides fresh insights into the neural circuits underlying key features of the dispositional negativity phenotype and their relevance to psychopathology. More broadly, these observations provide an integrative framework for understanding how fearful and anxious states and traits are organized in the brain, for conceptualizing the development of emotional disorders, and for guiding the development of improved intervention strategies.