Brain Science Makes Sense of Your Peculiar Personality
By Hannah Holmes
(Random House, Hardcover, 9781400068401, 288pp.)
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
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Who are you? It’s the most fundamental of human questions. Are you the type of person who tilts at windmills, or the one who prefers to view them from the comfort of an air-conditioned motorcoach? Our personalities are endlessly fascinating—not just to ourselves but also to our spouses, our parents, our children, our co-workers, our neighbors. As a highly social species, humans have to navigate among an astonishing variety of personalities. But how did all these different permutations come about? And what purpose do they serve?
With her trademark wit and sly humor, Hannah Holmes takes readers into the amazing world of personality and modern brain science. Using the Five Factor Model, which slices temperaments into the major factors (Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness) and minor facets (such as impulsive, artistic, or cautious), Holmes demonstrates how our genes and brains dictate which factors and facets each of us displays. Are you a Nervous Nelly? Your amygdala is probably calling the shots. Hyperactive Hal? It’s all about the dopamine.
Each facet took root deep in the evolution of life on Earth, with Nature allowing enough personal variation to see a species through good times and bad. Just as there are introverted and extroverted people, there are introverted and extroverted mice, and even starfish. In fact, the personality genes we share with mice make them invaluable models for the study of disorders like depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety. Thus it is deep and ancient biases that guide your dealings with a very modern world. Your personality helps to determine the political party you support, the car you drive, the way you eat M&Ms, and the likelihood that you’ll cheat on your spouse.
Drawing on data from top research laboratories, the lives of her eccentric friends, the conflicts that plague her own household, and even the habits of her two pet mice, Hannah Holmes summarizes the factors that shape you. And what she proves is that it does take all kinds. Even the most irksome and trying personality you’ve ever encountered contributes to the diversity of our species. And diversity is the key to our survival.
Hannah Holmes is the author of The Well-Dressed Ape, Suburban Safari, and The Secret Life of Dust. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Discover, Outside, and many other publications. She was a frequent contributor on science and nature subjects for the Discovery Channel Online. She lives in Portland, Maine.
Praise for Hannah Holmes’s The Well-Dressed Ape
“Fascinating . . . a feast of provocative science and engaging trivia.”—USA Today
“Smart and upbeat, [The Well-Dressed Ape] will leave you prouder of your links to wild things.”—People
“The Well-Dressed Ape is a hoot.”—St. Petersburg Times
“Amusing and illuminating.”—Outside
“Full of interesting facts.”—The Washington Post Book World
“Juicy and humorous.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"What an amazing book. I don't often use the term ‘life-changing,’ but Quirk is. I read this book and a light went on. Suddenly, I understand the people around me. To learn that we are motivated by the same basic brain chemicals and structures as mice is oddly, profoundly, liberating."
– Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars
"With her typical charm, curiosity, and ability to make complex science accessible and amusing, Hannah Holmes now turns her attention to the quirks of our personalities. What a wonderfully engaging way to navel-gaze."
– Joanne Manaster, joannelovesscience.com
"At long last! I expect Hannah Holmes' delightful new book to usher in – finally – a science-based approach to thinking about how and why individuals differ, and to usher out the widespread nonsense that has for far too long passed as a personality psychology."
– Sam Gosling, Professor of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin and author of Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You
"Hannah Holmes manages to look at the world through very unique lenses and what she comes up with is extraordinarily perceptive, completely unique and, moreover, makes for great reading. I loved The Well Dressed Ape. Her new book Quirk has topped even that marvelous book."
– Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
"For as long as we've had language, we've been asking one question over and over: ‘What makes me “me”?’ Hannah Holmes finds fascinating answers to that question in the world of brain science. A divine spark of a book, Quirk explains how chemicals and brain lobes conspire to make us everything from smart alecks to worry warts and ultimately, utterly human."
– Amy Sutherland, author of What Shamu Taught Me About Love, Life, and Marriage