Study of Individual Differences

Why do individuals seek reward, avoid danger, and take risks differently? Bill Potter, Professor, and Robert Sheaff, Associate Professor, are members of the Institute of Biochemical and Psychological Study of Individual Differences.

The goal of this Institute is to employ Biochemical and Psychological studies to analyze the structures and signals of the major adaptive emotional systems. This Institute focuses on human individual differences in the systems that control the seeking of reward opportunities, the avoidance of dangers, risk-taking, risk analyses, and an individual's capacity to build realistic cognitive models of external reality.

The settings, structures and signaling in the adaptive emotional systems differ from individual to individual. Broad patterns emerge in which some individuals, for example, are highly responsive to signals of new opportunities and potential rewards, but others fail to see those possibilities. Some individuals readily detect danger and threat, but others go too far, sensing danger when none exists. Some individuals are oblivious to clues of impending danger. These enduring patterns emerge in psychological studies as personality individual differences. Personality individual differences are conceptualized as the enduring parameters of briefly acting dynamic emotion systems.

The Institute works to understand the dynamic modulation of genetic and other biochemical features of these emotion systems. We are currently investigating the effects of threat signals in people with known psychological variations in the personality traits of Negative-Emotionality, and Disconstraint/Sensation Seeking and known biochemical variations in serotonergic and catecholamine systems, cortisol and corticotropic releasing hormone receptors and other hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis signals.