From the time we’re children, we begin to question why we act in certain ways. The older we get, the more serious those questions become.
We can see pieces of our parents in the way we lose our temper or in the way we crave certain foods. But how many of our traits and behaviors are genetically inherited and how many are simply learned habits? This is the premise of the nature vs nurture debate.
Your personality emerges from a combination of your genetic makeup - the nature component of it - and the environment in which we grow and develop - the nurture component.
Currently, there is a lot of work being done in the fields of psychology and neuroscience to understand more about personality traits and their causes, though much of it remains a mystery. This mystery makes the nature vs nurture debate interesting. But over the past few decades, this learning process has accelerated tremendously.
Nature vs Nurture - Explained
How Nature Impacts Our Personality
The discussion about what role our genetics play in our personality and personal development has been debated for years. While some psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, thought that most of our actions were a result of subconscious and instinctual traits, others, like B.F. Skinner, theorized that our personalities were far more impacted by our environments, families of origin, and other external factors. Though psychologists have learned more about some inherited traits-- through twin studies, family studies, and more--there’s still much that is unknown and unproven. For right now, here are a few basic facts known about the role of genetics in personality:
We are not born as “blank slates”, but instead, personality is baked into our DNA.
There are natural variations in our brain structures and chemistry.
We inherit some personality traits.
Certain traits are more likely to be inheritable than others.
Some nature-related personality traits, like temperament, may take time to emerge.
How Nurture Impacts Our Personality
On the other end of the spectrum is our external environment and its role in our individual development. This includes your culture, your parents’ income, your parents’ relationship with one another, the community you grew up in, and other factors you are born into. Nurture involves most influences outside of your genetic code. As people, we often assume that our environment plays a role in our development, but we may not understand just how much it truly affects us over the years. While psychologists have made strides in learning about the role Nurture plays in our development, it’s difficult to precisely measure its impact because “environmental factors” is such a broad topic. To avoid causing unnecessary confusion, here’s a short list of basic connections found between our environment and our personality:
We are affected by our families (how we’re raised, sibling order, family’s financial stability, parents’ relationships with each other, and more.)
We can be altered by the relationships we build with peers.
We can change after experiencing traumatic events.
The culture we are born into plays a large role in our development.
How Self-Discipline Impacts Our Personality
The combination of how much both nature and nurture impact our personality development is a complex topic that has been explored for years. While Nature and Nurture work together to develop our personality, we also have the option to choose how we act, despite our more natural tendencies. Even if you grew up in an abusive, strained family, you can still make the choice to be peaceful and loving when starting your own family. In order to make these decisions that seem to fight our own nature, though, we need to have a healthy level of self-awareness and understanding. Learning more about your own psychology and having a more comprehensive, honest view of yourself can help with your personal development.
Quick Tip: You can make the first step in better understanding yourself by learning more about your personality through Crystal’s free online test.
Nature vs Nurture
Many psychologists today believe Nature and Nurture actually work together, in a balanced way, to make us who we are - rather than working against one another. In many cases, some naturally occurring genes cannot be activated without certain environmental factors. Research in areas like this, where gene expression is influenced by something other than the DNA sequence itself, has even lead to the development of a new field of study called Epigenetics. While researchers are still working to uncover more information about how we develop as people, it’s clear that Nature and Nurture both play major roles in making us who we are.
Why does it matter?
As we learn more about the influence of genetics and environments on personality and personal development (and the impact it has on the nature vs nurture discussion), we come closer to finding treatments for mental health issues, personality disorders, and more. By further understanding how we become who we are, we can help people work through traumatic issues, find ways to heal, and prevent problems from occurring in the first place.