By Dr. David Woo - June 12, 2023
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is gaining popularity as a treatment for depression and related mental health conditions. As with any medical treatment that interacts with the brain, you might be wondering: “Can TMS change your personality?” Below we address concerns about TMS and whether it affects a patient’s personality.
Does TMS Change Your Personality?
The short answer: no. TMS has been FDA-approved for the treatment of depression, migraines, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (1) It has been proven to be effective in relieving depressive symptoms, but there is no evidence to suggest that it causes any type of personality change. (2)
For a more detailed answer, it’s necessary to know a little more about how TMS–and your brain–works.
How TMS Works
TMS works by sending tiny, barely perceptible magnetic pulses to the brain via a device called a coil, which rests on the scalp like a helmet or skullcap. These pulses help to regulate electrochemical activity in the brain and ‘correct’ the abnormalities, such as lower activity in certain brain regions, that cause mood disorders.
Our consciousness, and therefore our personality, stems from brain activity, so when we see the image of electrodes on the scalp, it may be natural to wonder: “Does TMS change your personality?” Although TMS is effective in treating mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), and others, these mood disorders should not be considered a healthy part of a patient’s personality. (3,4)
Personality And Mood Disorders
The human mind is complex; our sense of self is informed by many factors. One tool psychologists use to measure personality today is the Five-Factor Model of personality, also known as the Big Five Model. (5) This model measures personality along a spectrum, from one extreme to the other, with most people falling somewhere in between. The five factors of personality are:
- Conscientiousness – impulsive and disorganized vs orderly and careful
- Agreeableness – suspicious vs friendly and helpful
- Neuroticism – calm and confident vs anxious and pessimistic
- Openness to Experience – preference for a routine or comfort zone vs spontaneity and adventure
- Extraversion – reserved and contemplative vs sociable and fun-loving
One key thing to keep in mind is this: your mood disorder is not your personality. Although certain mood disorders like depression may occur more frequently in people with certain personality traits, by making it difficult to engage in personal and social activities and relationships, mood disorders actively prevent the sufferer from truly feeling or being themselves. (6)
Studies: Can TMS Change Your Personality?
Research has been done on the relationship between personality traits and response to TMS treatments. One study found that although certain personality traits using the five-factor personality assessment (agreeableness and conscientiousness) were correlated with clinical remission (i.e., elimination) of depression symptoms, there were no changes in personality measures following a 4-week course of deep TMS. (7)
In other words, patients have the same personality they did before TMS, but their mood regulation is improved.
While TMS can certainly reduce the negative emotions and thought patterns that characterize mood disorders, there’s no reason to fear that you will be anything other than yourself following a course of TMS therapy. As with all mental health treatment, the end goal is to live a fulfilling life without the symptoms of a mental health condition holding you back from being yourself.
If you are suffering from symptoms of depression or a related mental health condition, it is important that you seek help. Delaying treatment could lead to worsening symptoms. To book an appointment at Madison Ave TMS & Psychiatry, contact us online or call (212) 731-2033.
- FDA permits marketing of transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. US Food and Drug Administration. August 17, 2018. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-permits-marketing-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation-treatment-obsessive-compulsive-disorder. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Tendler A, Goerigk S, Zibman S, Ouaknine S, Harmelech T, Pell G, Zangen A, Harvey S, Grammer G, Stehberg J, Adefolarin O, Muir O, MacMillan C, Ghelber D, Duffy W, Mania I, Faruqui Z, Munasif Fi, Antin T, Padberg F, Roth Y. Deep TMS H1 Coil treatment for depression: Results from a large post marketing data analysis. Psychiatry Research. 2023;324. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178123001300. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Brainsway. Deep TMS is found Safe and Effective for the Treatment of ADHD. https://www.brainsway.com/knowledge-center/deep-tms-found-safe-effective-treatment-adhd/. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Sverak T, Linhartova P, Gajdos M, Kuhn M, Latalova A, Lamos M, Ustohal L and Kasparek T. Brain Connectivity and Symptom Changes After Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Patients With Borderline Personality Disorder. Front. Psychiatry. 2022;12:770353. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.770353/full. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Big Five Personality Traits: The 5-Factor Model Of Personality. Simply Psychology. 2023. https://www.simplypsychology.org/big-five-personality.html. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- Klein DN, Kotov R, Bufferd SJ. Personality and depression: explanatory models and review of the evidence. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2011;7:269-95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518491/. Accessed May 7, 2023.
- McGirr A, Van den Eynde F, Chachamovich E, Fleck M, Berlim M. Personality dimensions and deep repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (DTMS) for treatment-resistant depression: A pilot trial on five-factor prediction of antidepressant response. Neuroscience Letters. 2014;(563):144-148. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304394014000640. Accessed May 7, 2023.