The Parkinsonian Personality: A Habit of Highly Successful People?

Psychiatry_Psychology2.jpgParkinson’s Disease. As soon as we hear this, we think “neurodegenerative”, “dopamine”, “Levodopa”, “tremor”, “basal ganglia”, and so on. However, it is odd for one to associate Parkinson’s to Personality.

Some common personality types exhibited by most individuals with the disease are obsessiveness, industriousness, reservedness, rigidness, cautiousness and punctuality. The most distinct characteristic underlying these traits is the lack of novelty-seeking.

This Parkinsonian Personality has created an inquisitive approach to the disease for nearly a century. Scientists are now increasingly showing more awareness towards this aspect of Parkinson’s. The world’s most reviled dictator, Hitler, seemed to exhibit the Parkinsonian Personality. This and the other motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are allegedly a key factor for his downfall. However there has been an incessant effort to discover if it is these personality traits that trigger the cause of the disease or are these traits the mere consequences of the disease itself. This ultimately leads us to the dilemma of “The chicken or the egg? — Which came first?” That is, one has to investigate if the individuals that possess these particular traits exposes them to certain perils that leads to that person being the recipient of the disease. Or, on the other hand, are these qualities the by-products or the results of having Parkinson’s Disease?

If we lean towards the latter argument, then we can assign the low dopamine level in patients to be the culprit that leads to the emergence of these unwholesome personality traits. Dopamine and its vital role in pleasure and motivation have been well recognized. The decrease of this chemical therefore reduces the enjoyment and enthusiasm experienced by the patient. Without this strong reinforcement, a person tends to accommodate a safe, less-risky behavior that develops into the Parkinsonian Personality.

However a recent study in the Scientific American suggests that this Parkinsonian Personality is not dopamine dependent. The authors of this research studied patients with the disease but were not on medication yet and suggested that the established association could be due to the medication. Therefore they construed that the traits are not explicit to the disease rather it “possibly reflects a psychological response to a chronic disease.”

As signs of this disease only start to emerge after about 80% of the dopamine in the brain has been lost, this could explain why the certain personality types materialize long before the person is diagnosed. With this in mind, one can understand the conjecture behind breakthrough headlines such as “Risk takers are less likely to get Parkinson’s disease” and “Risk-takers ‘escape Parkinson’s.” An article titled “Some Good News About Bad Habits” and other similar articles discusses the implausible benefits of smoking, intake of alcohol, caffeine consumption and its association to Parkinson’s Disease. However, a study published in MedlinePlus in February 2006, rectifies this claim by explaining that this could just be a behavioral response of a person who has a low impulsive sensation-seeking tendency, is cautious and just hates being risky!