Does personality influence body weight or vice versa? | University of Tartu

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Faculty of Arts and Humanities
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+372 737 5341
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Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
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    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
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    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
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    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
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    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
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    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
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    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
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    J. Liivi 4, 50409, Tartu
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    +372 435 5232
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    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
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+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
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    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
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    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
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    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
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    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
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    +372 737 5902
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
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    +372 737 5390
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 20–324, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Social Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5188
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
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    +372 740 1900
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 2, 20307 Narva
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    Faculty address: 
    Ringi 35, 80012 Pärnu
Faculty of Medicine
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+372 737 5326
Faculty address: 
Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
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    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
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    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
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    +372 737 5286
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    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
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    +372 731 9856
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    Raekoja plats 6, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
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    +372 737 5323
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    L. Puusepa 8, 50406 Tartu
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    +372 737 4190
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    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5027
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
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    +372 737 4510
    Faculty address: 
    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
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    +372 737 4800
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5835
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
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    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
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    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
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    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
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    Narva mnt 18, 51009, Tartu
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    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
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    Raekoja plats 9, 51004 Tartu
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
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    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
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    Ülikooli 18-244, 51005 Tartu
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    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
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    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18b, 51005 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
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    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
Other Units
  • University of Tartu Academic Sports Club
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    Faculty address: 
    Ujula 4, 51008 Tartu
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    +372 740 9959
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 25, 51013 Tartu
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    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

Contacts of UT units

Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5341
Faculty address: 
Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5341
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 116–121, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of History and Archaeology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5651
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5221
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5314
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 2, rooms 309–352, 51005 Tartu
  • Institute of Cultural Research
    Faculty phone: 
    (+372) 737 5223
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Theology and Religious Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5301
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18–310, 50090 Tartu
  • College of Foreign Languages and Cultures
    Faculty address: 
    J. Liivi 4, 50409, Tartu
  • Viljandi Culture Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 435 5232
    Faculty address: 
    Posti 1, 71004 Viljandi
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5957
Faculty address: 
Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    + 372 737 5900
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Education
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6440
    Faculty address: 
    Salme 1a–29, 50103 Tartu
  • Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5582
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36–301, 51003 Tartu
  • School of Economics and Business Administration
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6310
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Psychology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5902
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 2, 50409 Tartu
  • School of Law
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5390
    Faculty address: 
    Näituse 20–324, 50409 Tartu
  • Institute of Social Studies
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5188
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 36, 51003 Tartu
  • Narva College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 1900
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 2, 20307 Narva
  • Pärnu College
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 445 0520
    Faculty address: 
    Ringi 35, 80012 Pärnu
Faculty of Medicine
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5326
Faculty address: 
Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5326
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4210
    Faculty address: 
    Biomeedikum, Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Pharmacy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5286
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Dentistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 731 9856
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 6, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Clinical Medicine
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5323
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 8, 50406 Tartu
  • Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4190
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 19, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5360
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 5–205, 51005 Tartu
Faculty of Science and Technology
Faculty phone: 
+372 737 5820
Faculty address: 
Vanemuise 46–208, 51014 Tartu
  • Dean's Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5820
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46–208, 51003 Tartu
  • Institute of Computer Science
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5445
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Estonian Marine Institute
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 671 8902
    Faculty address: 
    Mäealuse 14, 12618 Tallinn
  • Institute of Physics
    Faculty address: 
    W. Ostwaldi 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Chemistry
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5261
    Faculty address: 
    Ravila 14a, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Genomics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4000
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23b, 51010 Tartu
  • Institute of Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5860
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009 Tartu
  • Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5027
    Faculty address: 
    Riia 23, 23b–134, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu Observatory
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4510
    Faculty address: 
    Observatooriumi 1, Tõravere, 61602 Tartumaa
  • Institute of Technology
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4800
    Faculty address: 
    Nooruse 1, 50411 Tartu
  • Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5835
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Institutions
  • Library
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5702
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
  • Youth Academy
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5581
    Faculty address: 
    Uppsala 10, 51003 Tartu
  • Museum
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5674
    Faculty address: 
    Lossi 25, 51003 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6076
    Faculty address: 
    Vanemuise 46, 51003 Tartu
Support Units
  • Administrative Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5606
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 4809
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 18, 51009, Tartu
  • University Office in Tallinn
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6600
    Faculty address: 
    Teatri väljak 3, 10143 Tallinn
  • Estates Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5137
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Finance Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5125
    Faculty address: 
    Jakobi 4, 51005 Tartu
  • Grant Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6215
    Faculty address: 
    Raekoja plats 9, 51004 Tartu
  • Information Technology Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6000, IT-help: +372 737 5500
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Human Resources Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5145
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 302 and 304, 50090 Tartu
  • Internal Audit Office
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18-244, 51005 Tartu
  • International Cooperation and Protocol Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6123
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 104, 301, 305, 50090 Tartu
  • Marketing and Communication Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5687
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, rooms 102, 104, 209, 210, 50090 Tartu
  • Office of Academic Affairs
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5620
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Procurement Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 6632
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18a, 51005 Tartu
  • Rector's Strategy Office
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5600
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • Student Council
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18b, 51005 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Press
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5945
    Faculty address: 
    W. Struve 1, 50091 Tartu
Other Units
  • University of Tartu Academic Sports Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5371
    Faculty address: 
    Ujula 4, 51008 Tartu
  • Tartu Student Village
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 740 9959
    Faculty address: 
    Narva mnt 25, 51013 Tartu
  • Tartu Students’ Club
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 730 2400
    Faculty address: 
    Kalevi 24, 51010 Tartu
  • Tartu University Hospital
    Faculty address: 
    L. Puusepa 1a, 50406 Tartu
  • University of Tartu Foundation
    Faculty phone: 
    +372 737 5852
    Faculty address: 
    Ülikooli 18, 50090 Tartu
  • View all other units

Does personality influence body weight or vice versa?

Results confirmed that obesity is associated with several personality traits. Photo by Dmitry Khrustalev-Grigoriev, Unsplash.

Many personality traits are associated with health indicators, such as body mass index. Although personality traits are often believed to affect body mass index, there is little concrete evidence to that effect. Researchers who began to study such associations have come to quite unexpected conclusions.

The links between the personality and obesity have been studied for a long time. Uku Vainik and colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis covering nearly 15,000 people, and its results affirmed that obesity correlated with several personality traits (black dots on figure). For example, obesity is associated with higher neuroticism and lower conscientiousness, and their facets, for example impulsiveness, self-consciousness and order (see figure).

Until now, psychologists have implicitly assumed that such personality traits can influence body weight: people with higher impulsiveness and lower self-consciousness may find it difficult to resist food temptations, and this will affect their body weight over time. In contrast, other scientists have suggested that body weight can affect personality characteristics, for example, through physiological or social processes.

It is harder for overweight people to move around and probably therefore they score lower on activity, a facet of extraversion (E4 in the figure). Similarly, people with obesity may receive negative signals from society, which could explain their slightly higher scores on hostility, a facet of neuroticism (N2 in the figure).

Source: Uku Vainik et al., 2018. Personality-obesity associations are driven by narrow traits: A meta-analysis.

To better understand the causality, either body weight or personality should ideally be influenced experimentally, but this would be complex and expensive. Thus, researchers of the University of Tartu and seven other universities decided to analyse genetic data. Both body weight and personality traits are partly influenced by genetic factors, and it is therefore possible to analyse their causal associations based on genetic data. This makes it possible to calculate a person’s genetic obesity risk and using such data, predict the personality traits. The same analysis can also be conducted the other way round – calculate the genetic predisposition for a personality trait and see whether it is associated with body mass index. In this way it was found that genetic obesity risk predicted personality traits, and the genetic propensity for worrying, in turn, predicted obesity.

Similar associations between body weight and personality were found in a dataset of twins . With twin data, it is possible to estimate to what extent genetic and environmental factors explain variance in personality traits and body mass index. Further, statistical models enable testing whether there are causal relationships between personality and body weight and, if so, which one influences the other. As large data sets are needed to achieve the necessary statistical power, the researchers used twin samples collected in five countries and the data of 3,500 Estonian biobank participants. The results suggested that there could be a two-way relationships between body weight and personality traits – body weight influences personality and personality in turn affects body weight, but body weight had a greater impact on personality than vice-versa.

The lead researcher Uku Vainik, Research Fellow of the Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology at the University of Tartu and Adjunct Professor at McGill University, was quite surprised at the results. “Contrary to psychologists’ widespread opinion, the genetic analyses suggest that body mass index influences personality traits. Thus, an individual’s self-image or thoughts, feelings and behaviour may depend on body weight. Such results contrast with the formerly prevailing view that overeating is caused by a person’s low self-control. While the results of the study do not rule out the effect of personality on body weight, the effect appears to be much weaker than the effect of body weight on personality,” said Vainik.

Also Kadri Arumäe, doctoral student of Psychology at the University of Tartu and the first author of the article, considered the results unexpected. “The same conclusions were supported by results obtained from different samples and with different analysis methods. In the future, it would be interesting to find out which personality traits exactly are influenced by body mass and which of them in turn affect body weight. To conduct such analyses, we would need more advanced data on the genetic background of personality than has been available to us so far,” Arumäe explained. This possibility may arise soon, as the Estonian Biobank will start collecting new personality data in the autumn of 2021. All gene donors who respond to the e-mail invitation will contribute to having a better understanding of the personality-body weight associations in the future.

Research into the associations between personality and body mass index has been considered important because it can help identify the factors through which it would be possible to fight obesity more effectively. However, if body weight influences personality, such associations may prove important from quite another aspect. Although doubts have been expressed previously whether factors influencing personality development can be identified at all, the authors of the article recently published in the International Journal of Obesity have considered the possibility that body mass index could be one of these factors.

The researchers do not yet dare to suggest whether personality traits can be used in weight management strategies. People generally want to be more conscientious and less neurotic, and these traits are most clearly associated with body mass index. Still, the associations are not strong enough to draw any conclusions about an individual’s personality based on their weight. However, the analysis results demonstrated one reason why it is important to promote public health and a healthy living environment: normal-weight people feel better.

Authors of the newly published scientific article are: Kadri Arumäe, doctoral student of Psychology at the University of Tartu, Daniel Briley, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Lucía Colodro-Conde, Associate Professor and Senior Research Officer at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Erik Mortensen, Professor emeritus of Environmental Health at the University of Copenhagen, Kerry Jang, Professor at the University of British Columbia, Juko Ando, Professor of Educational Psychology and Behavioural Genetics at Keiō University, Christian Kandler, Professor of Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment at the University of Bremen, Thorkild Sørensen, Professor emeritus of Epidemiology at the University of Copenhagen, Alain Dagher, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University Health Centre, René Mõttus, Reader in Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and Uku Vainik, Research Fellow of the Department of Experimental Psychology, Institute of Psychology at the University of Tartu, and Adjunct Professor at Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University.

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