Do we inherit personality? (3 insights)

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

Do we inherit personality?

No, we do not inherit our personality in the traditional sense. The impact of our genes on our behaviour is totally reliant on the circumstances of our daily lives.

Following are 3 insights into the inheritance of personality –

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

These 3 insights will be discussed in further detail below after understanding personality and its characteristics in-depth. 

What is Personality?

Individual variances in thinking, feeling, and acting patterns are referred to as personality. Understanding individual variances in certain personality qualities, such as friendliness or irritability, is one of the main goals of personality research. 

The other is comprehending how a person’s diverse pieces come together as a whole. The word personality comes from the Latin word persona, which refers to a theatrical mask worn by actors to present multiple parts or conceal their true identity.

At its most fundamental level, personality refers to a person’s distinctive patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Personality is said to emerge from within an individual and to be pretty consistent throughout life.

While there are several definitions of personality, the majority of them focus on a pattern of actions and features that may be used to predict and explain a person’s behaviour.

Personality may be explained through a range of factors, ranging from genetic explanations for personality traits to the impact of environment and experience in creating an individual’s personality.

Characteristics of Personality

The following core personality qualities, as well as traits and patterns of thinking and emotion, have a crucial role –

  • Behaviours have an identifiable order and regularity to them. People, in general, behave in the same or similar ways in a range of settings.
  • Personality is a psychological construct, but research reveals that biological processes and requirements can impact it.
  • Personality impacts not just how we move and respond in our surroundings, but it also drives us to behave in specific ways.
  • Personality is expressed in a variety of ways, not simply via conduct. It shows up in our thoughts, feelings, personal relationships, and other social interactions as well.

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 we inherit personality?” and reviewed personality, personality traits and their link to genetics to help determine if we inherit personality. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

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/#:~:text=Although%20we%20do%20inherit%20our,it%20unfolds%20day%20to%20day.

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

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

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

Anthony, A. So is it nature not nurture after all? (2018, September 29). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/29/so-is-it-nature-not-nurture-after-all-genetics-robert-plomin-polygenic-testing

Krueger, R. F., South, S., Johnson, W., & Iacono, W. (2008). The heritability of personality is not always 50%: gene-environment interactions and correlations between personality and parenting. Journal of personality, 76(6), 1485–1522. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2593100/

Is temperament determined by genetics? MedlinePlus. (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

Ask an Expert: Is Human Behavior Genetic or Learned? National University. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nu.edu/resources/ask-an-expert-is-human-behavior-genetic-or-learned/

Zwir, I., Arnedo, J., Del-Val, C. et al. Uncovering the complex genetics of human character. Mol Psychiatry 25, 2295–2312 (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0263-6

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