Genetics and Environment: Architects and Decorators of Our Personality

Every person is a unique blend of traits, tendencies, and quirks that make up their personality. It is personality that largely defines who we are and how we interact with the world. But what is it that shapes these personalities? The answer lies in the long-debated nature versus nurture discourse. We are now coming to […]

Genetics and Environment: Architects and Decorators of Our Personality
Genetics and Environment: Architects and Decorators of Our Personality
  • Yayınlanma25 July 2023 06:45

Every person is a unique blend of traits, tendencies, and quirks that make up their personality. It is personality that largely defines who we are and how we interact with the world. But what is it that shapes these personalities? The answer lies in the long-debated nature versus nurture discourse. We are now coming to understand that it’s not nature or nurture, but nature and nurture, interwoven in an intricate dance. The complex tapestry of our personality is woven from two primary threads: our genetic makeup (nature) and the environment in which we develop (nurture). The aim of this column is to delve into the fascinating interplay of these factors in shaping our personality.

Genes: The Architects of Our Personalities

For several decades, scientists have been studying the relationship between our genes and our personalities. Their findings consistently point to the conclusion that our genetic makeup plays a substantial role in shaping who we are as individuals. To put it into perspective, a comprehensive study published by Polderman and colleagues in 2015 provided some striking figures. They conducted a meta-analysis, which is a technique that combines the results of various studies to come up with more reliable conclusions, and the studies they focused on were those that involved twins.

The choice of twin studies is essential because identical twins share virtually 100% of their genes, and therefore, any differences between them are likely due to environmental factors. By comparing identical twins to fraternal twins, who share only about 50% of their genes, researchers can estimate how much of the variability in a trait is due to genetic versus environmental influences.

From their analysis, Polderman and his team found that around 40 to 60% of the variability in certain personality traits can be explained by genetic factors. In other words, your DNA could account for nearly half of why you have the personality traits you do.

The personality traits investigated in this research were based on a widely accepted psychological theory known as the “Big Five” personality traits. These include extroversion (how outgoing or shy you are), openness to experience (your willingness to try new things and embrace new ideas), agreeableness (how cooperative and compassionate you are towards others), conscientiousness (your level of organization, responsibility, and dependability), and neuroticism (the extent to which you experience negative emotions like anxiety and anger). The results showed that all of these traits are influenced significantly by our genes (Polderman et al., 2015).

Environment: The Interior Decorators of Our Personalities

Think of our genes like the basic structure of a house. They provide the shape and framework of who we are, much like how the skeleton of a house tells us where the rooms and doors will be. However, just like how a house can be painted, decorated, and altered to fit our personal tastes, our experiences and environments can shape and tweak our personality.

This shaping happens through the people we grow up with, the friends we hang out with, the money and resources available to us, and the unique experiences we have in life. All these environmental factors can be thought of as decorators, changing the way our personality ‘house’ looks on the inside.

Let’s look at an example. A study was done in 2006 by researchers named Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer. They found something interesting: if parents were warm and responsive to their kids, those kids tended to grow up to be more conscientious and agreeable. Being conscientious means being thorough, careful, or vigilant; being agreeable means being nice or pleasant.

This doesn’t mean that these traits were totally absent in these kids before, though. It’s more like the parents’ warmth and care brought out and enhanced these traits, almost like how a gardener can help a plant to grow by giving it plenty of sunlight and water. This study shows us that our environments and experiences can have a real, lasting impact on our personality, even if our genes provide the starting point.

Crucially, our personality isn’t a simple sum of separate genetic and environmental influences. It’s the result of a constant interplay, an ongoing feedback loop, where the environment can influence the expression of genes, and genetic predispositions can shape how we interact with the environment (Scarr & McCartney, 1983). This is known as the gene-environment interaction.

To understand this, let’s go back to our extroversion example. A person with a genetic predisposition towards extroversion might seek out social situations, reinforcing and expressing their extroverted tendencies. On the other hand, an introverted predisposition might lead a person to prefer solitary activities, enhancing their introverted traits. Hence, our genes not only shape our personality but also guide us to environments that confirm and reinforce this genetic influence.

Deciphering the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in personality development carries profound implications for several domains. In education, understanding this interplay can help tailor teaching styles to cater to different student personalities, fostering better learning outcomes. In psychology, this knowledge can aid in creating more personalized therapeutic interventions. At the societal level, it can inform policies for a more understanding and inclusive society, acknowledging the complexities of personality development.

In conclusion, the weaving of our personality tapestry is a complex and ongoing process, with every thread of experience leaving a lasting impact on the end product. Our personalities are a testament to the beautiful interplay of genetics and environment, as they work in unison to shape our unique selves. As we unravel more about this process, we hold a mirror to the essence of human individuality, reminding ourselves of the shared yet diverse human journey.

Bibliography:

  • Polderman, T. J., Benyamin, B., de Leeuw, C. A., Sullivan, P. F., van Bochoven, A., Visscher, P. M., & Posthuma, D. (2015). Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on ten fifty years of twin studies. Nature genetics, 47(7), 702-709.
  • Roberts, B. W., Walton, K. E., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: a meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological bulletin, 132(1), 1-25.
  • Scarr, S., & McCartney, K. (1983). How people make their own environments: A theory of genotype→ environment effects. Child development, 54(2), 424-435.