Do personality traits skip a generation? (3 insights)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Do personality traits skip a generation?” and explore personality, personality traits and their link to genetics to help understand the answer. 

Do personality traits skip a generation?

Yes, personality traits can skip a generation. The following are 3 insights into how personality traits pass through generations – 

  • Nature Versus Nurture in Psychology.
  • The Twin Studies.
  • Nurture and Nature Together.

These 3 insights into how personality traits pass through generations will be discussed in further detail below after taking a look at the meaning of personality traits. 

What are personality traits?

Personality characteristics are the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that people have. Personality qualities reflect consistency and stability—someone with a high Extraversion score is predicted to be friendly in a variety of contexts and throughout time. 

People differ from one another in terms of where they stand on a set of basic characteristic dimensions that endure over time and across settings, according to trait psychology. The Five-Factor Model is the most extensively utilised system of attributes.

The term OCEAN stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, and it refers to five basic personality qualities. 

Each of the Big Five’s key characteristics may be broken down into aspects to provide a more detailed study of a person’s personality. Furthermore, some trait theorists claim that the Five-Factor Model does not capture all of a person’s characteristics. 

Critics of the characteristic idea claim that humans do not behave consistently from one scenario to the next and are heavily influenced by external factors. 

As a result, one of the most contentious issues on the subject is the relative importance of people’s characteristics versus the conditions in which they find themselves as predictors of their behaviour.

What are these 3 insights into the inheritance of personality?

Nature Versus Nurture in Psychology.

The nature vs. nurture argument continues to rage, and it mirrors the popular culture of the moment. For example, psychologist and eugenicist Francis Galton (a relative of Charles Darwin) believed that intellect was inherited and that society might be improved by “better breeding” back in Darwin’s day.

Sigmund Freud revolutionised popular thought. He felt that early conflicts and how a person learnt to manage their physical surroundings affected one’s identity. This behaviourist or nurture approach dominated psychology for most of the twentieth century. 

Human personality was once thought to be predominantly impacted by their surroundings and it could be altered via social conditioning. Thousands of Americans went to psychotherapy to talk about their childhoods around this time, and Bandura conducted his famous Bobo doll experiment to prove that violence could be learnt through imitation.

Today, scientists have a far better grasp of how features and particular behavioural characteristics are handed down from parent to kid thanks to studies into the human genome.

Genetics has a higher effect on the development of some personality traits than previously assumed, according to a recent study on twins, and may even play a larger role than child upbringing.

The Twin Studies.

The University of Minnesota researched 350 pairs of twins over 20 years, some of whom were reared in separate households. The study was the first of its type to examine twins who were reared apart from those who were raised in the same setting. 

Researchers were able to determine the relative importance of heredity and upbringing in their growth as a result of this. Participants in the research were put through a battery of personality tests that were based on the Big 5 personality test. 

Big 5 assesses participants on five fundamental personality traits as well as sub-traits. These are –

“O – Openness to experience (your level of curiosity)”

“C – Conscientiousness (your level of work ethic)”

“E – Extraversion (your level of sociability)”

“A – Agreeableness (your level of kindness)”

“N – Neuroticism (your level of anxiety or shame).”

More than half of the diversity between the twins was found to be genetic for most of the variables studied. Ambition, susceptibility to stress (neuroticism), leadership, risk-taking, a sense of well-being, and, unexpectedly, respect for authority were among the attributes revealed to be most significantly predicted by genetics. 

The genetic component for these features was discovered to be in the range of 50 to 60%. The most remarkable raised-apart twin set in the Minnesota research, Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, were revealed to be so similar in the personality factors of tolerance, flexibility, and conformity that it was nearly difficult to tell them apart.

Even though the twin studies show that nature has a large impact, family influence is still important. Recent research has found that the personality attribute of conscientiousness, for example, has a far lower genetic link than the other personality qualities.

This means that a parent or educator could provide an intrinsically spontaneous kid with the skills she needs to demonstrate responsibility and self-discipline, so influencing her personality development.

It’s not simply the impact of one’s family that matters. In a recent British study, researchers discovered that genes account for 60% of the variation in a child’s disorderly conduct in school. 

However, the environment played a far larger effect in London and other global hubs. Deprivation, housing, education, and even pollution levels, according to the study, may all affect how your DNA manifests itself as personality.

This leads us to another intriguing finding from the Minnesota twin study. Researchers discovered that identical twins who were reared apart are more similar than identical twins who were raised together. 

Because together twins have the ability to detect their similarities and adjust their behaviour in order to be distinct from their siblings, they may successfully switch off their genes.

Nurture and Nature Together.

The dispute over whether our genes impact our personality boils down to nature vs. nurture, which is one of the oldest controversies in psychology. Since Darwin realised that surviving means passing on the most capable genes to the next generation, it has dominated personality theory.

Children inherit eye colour, skin pigmentation, and susceptibility to certain illnesses from one or both parents, as well as unique personality traits. Personality is hardwired, and no amount of parenting can alter it.

The notion of nurture is in the other corner. According to the theory of nurture, the human mind is a blank slate, and the sum of your surroundings, learning, and experiences shapes you into the person you are today.

All of this suggests that, even if we do inherit certain aspects of our personalities, we aren’t doomed to live with them forever. There’s a good chance we can change our mood merely by changing our environment, or even by simple willpower.

Rather than asking if personality is influenced by nature or nurture, we should ask how much. How much of our personalities are determined by our genetics, and how much can we influence and alter over time? Is it even possible to put a number on anything with so many variables?

Biology and environment mould our personalities, and it’s nearly hard to retain an all-or-nothing mindset.

Conclusion – 

This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Do personality traits skip a generation?” and reviewed the concept of personality, personality traits and their link to genetics to help determine if personality traits can skip a generation. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

Goleman, D. MAJOR PERSONALITY STUDY FINDS THAT TRAITS ARE MOSTLY INHERITED. (1986, December 2). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1986/12/02/science/major-personality-study-finds-that-traits-are-mostly-inherited.html#:~:text=THE%20genetic%20makeup%20of%20a,twins%20reared%20in%20different%20families.

Sokol, R. Is Personality Genetic? Understanding Inherited Personality Traits. (2021, December 17). Retrieved from https://www.familyeducation.com/genetics-pregnancy/is-personality-genetic

Is temperament determined by genetics? Medline Plus. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/traits/temperament/

Owens, M, Do Children Inherit Their Parents’ Personalities? (2016, May 23). Retrieved from https://www.truity.com/blog/do-children-inherit-their-parents%E2%80%99-personalities

How can a trait skip a generation? Lisbdnet.com (2021, November 26). Retrieved from https://lisbdnet.com/how-can-a-trait-skip-a-generation/

INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY – 1ST CANADIAN EDITION. BCcampus. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/introductiontopsychology/chapter/11-3-is-personality-more-nature-or-more-nurture-behavioral-and-molecular-genetics/

Nield, D. Scientists Have Found Genetic Links Between Personality Traits And Psychiatric Diseases. (2016, December 16). Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-find-genetic-links-between-personality-traits-and-psychiatric-diseases

In genetics, what hereditary traits skip a generation? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/In-genetics-what-hereditary-traits-skip-a-generation

Cherry, K. Are Personality Traits Caused by Genes or Environment? (2020, April 27). Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/are-personality-traits-caused-by-genes-or-environment-4120707

Mitchell, E. et al. Behavioural traits propagate across generations via segregated iterative-somatic and gametic epigenetic mechanisms. (2016, May 13). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4869176/

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