A devil, a born devil, on whose nature
Nurture can never stickShakespeare
Like father, like son. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We have tons of idioms to express similarities between family members. We even use them as excuses, like when you shrug and say everyone in your family is simply messy. But can things like being organized, artistic talent or your interest in science really be in your blood?
At the same time, there are plenty of people you claim you can be whoever you want to be. We are comparing ourselves to people on social media, and feel pressured to become more active, more outgoing, and happier. There is a whole industry built on this feeling of lack: services promising to change you. There are countless YouTube videos, life coaches and books on “reinventing yourself”. Let’s take a quick dive into personality studies to see if you should accept your fate or fight for change.
Nature versus nurture
Is it a popular discussion topic among scientists as well – what makes people different? We call this the nature versus nurture debate. Back in the day, people tended to think about personality as something you are born with. After Darwin’s observations, the evolutionist approach spread quickly, and psychologists claimed that our behavior and emotions are determined by biological factors.
According to the nurturist approach, we become who we are by experience. John B. Watson once said: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
So, who is right? Is it in your blood to be a talented pianist, or was it all practice? After numerous twin studies, scientists came to the conclusion that they are equally important. According to the equal environment assumption theory, genes and environment are in interaction. What’s more, the environment has an impact on hereditary traits. To put it simple: When you are born, you have the potential to become plenty of different things – but it also depends on your lifestyle and the social environment surrounding what you turn out to be. Genetic factors contribute to our behavior, but don’t predestinate.
The glass half full
Let’s take a look at the example of optimism, to better understand how personality traits develop. For some, people seem to be easy to keep a positive mindset, but others can’t help but always see the glass half empty. Nowadays, we face a lot of pressure to keep optimistic and happy, but can this really be expected from everyone? What if some people were born a pessimist?
Well, today’s psychology says optimism’s heritability estimate is approximately 25%, which is lower than many personality traits, but it is still substantial. Let’s see what different ways genes can interact with the environment.
Individuals experience and react to the same environment differently. Optimists expect good outcomes, even when things are hard, which protects them from negative feelings – anger, sadness, or even despair. In their relationships, optimists report greater social support, however, this difference might be a perception difference only – they tend to see things in the best light and overestimate their partner’s efforts.
Individuals evoke different reactions from the environment. Social interactions with optimistic people are more positive. This makes optimists really likable people, which is something that really helps find their way in the world.
We’re not talking about a passive process. Individuals participate actively in shaping the surrounding world, by choosing their environment. The literature suggests that people who expect good things to happen take active steps to make sure good things do happen. Optimists believe their efforts will be successful, which makes them more eager to act and do more things for their well-being (health promotion or work harder on their relationships).
Now you see that you don’t simply develop or inherit your personality, there are lots of factors that play a role. If you are interested in personality, read our blog!
If you’d like to speak to a professional, you can book an appointment here.
Roza Sara Somlai is an Educational Psychology and Counselling student at Eotvos Lorand University. She is currently an intern at Willingness.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical psychology review, 30(7), 879–889. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006
Hilgard, E. R., Atkinson, R. C., & Atkinson, R. L. (1979). Introduction to psychology. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Plomin, R. (2001). Behavioral Genetics
Plomin, R., Scheier, M. F., Bergeman, C. S., Pedersen, N. L., Nesselroade, J. R., & McClearn, G. E. (1992). Optimism, pessimism and mental health: A twin/adoption analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 13(8), 921–930. https://doi.org/10.1016/0191-8869(92)90009-E