• personality traits;
  • Big Five;
  • Personality Gene Flow hypothesis;
  • small islands


Whether personality differences exist between populations is a controversial question. Even though such differences can be measured, it is still not clear whether they are due to individual phenotypic responses to the environment or whether they have a genetic influence. In a population survey we compared the personality traits of inhabitants of an Italian archipelago (the three Egadi islands; N = 622) with those of the closest mainland population (Trapani area; N = 106) and we found that personality differences between small populations can be detected. Islanders scored significantly lower on the personality traits of openness to experience and extraversion and higher on conscientiousness. We suggest that these personality trait differences could be an adaptive response to a confined socio-environmental niche, genetically produced by a strong, non-random gene flow in the last 20–25 generations, rather than the flexible response of islanders to environmental variables. To test this hypothesis, we compared subsets of the islander population classified by ancestry, birthplace, immigration and emigration and found that differences in extraversion can be accounted for by gene flow, while openness to experience and conscientiousness can also be accounted for by some gene–environment interactions. We propose a Personality Gene Flow hypothesis suggesting that, in small isolated communities, whenever there is strong, non-random emigration, paired with weak and random immigration, we can expect rapid genetic personality change within the population. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.