Nature Versus Nurture: Examining Personality Genetics
Nature versus nurture is a biological debate that hails back to the mid-1800s – and in 2023, the true source of personality development remains disagreed upon. While some scientific experts believe a person is a product of their genetic makeup alone, others believe environment has the primary impact on one’s development. The third (and perhaps most realistic) theory considers nature and nurture to be partners in human maturation, but it’s nearly impossible to pin down one universal answer in a continuously-evolving and complex global society. However, even if we can’t identify the direct cause behind someone being the way that they are, there are quite a few ways to determine what someone’s personality style is, depending on which personality origin theory camp you tend to reside in.
What are personality genetics? (OCEAN)
The term “personality genetics” describes the theory that how we act has everything – or at least something – to do with our DNA. The DNA of personality means something in our genetic code informs the kind of person we’ll grow into: how we’ll interact with others, what sort of interests we’ll have, and how likely we are to be neurotypical versus neurodivergent. There are a few things to consider when wondering whether or not this theory makes sense, and is, indeed, true. For example, babies or young children with bold personalities don’t have a whole lot of life experience or environmental influence to attribute those traits to – and that makes it a lot easier to assume that the DNA of personality came strongly into play. However, it’s also undeniable that major life events can have a significant impact on one’s development: like a child growing increasingly irritable and temperamental while their parents are going through a divorce, or a person becoming more withdrawn and stoic after witnessing a death. Because of this, nature versus nurture continues to be hotly debated. But for those who err on the side of believing that nature plays a significant role in development, there are five main personality traits that experts believe are genetically inherited: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN).
This trait refers to experience: the willingness to try new things, think abstractly, or go against the grain. If someone is more imaginative, creative, curious, or insightful, they tend to be more open – and many believe that can only be determined by personality genetics.
Conscientiousness refers to thoughtfulness and impulse control. Are you someone who is considered easily goal-oriented, disciplined, ambitious, consistent, or reliable? Conscientiousness might just be written in your DNA of personality.
If you’re likely to draw energy from social interactions, you’re probably an extroverted person. This means you thrive on connection, and tend to be more outgoing and confident in groups. On the other hand, introverted people draw their energy from being alone, and tend to require a lot of solo time in order to feel balanced, happy, and well.
Agreeableness measures how a person interacts with other people. The more compassionate, cooperative, empathetic, tactful, and loyal you are, the more agreeable you’re considered to be. These are known as “prosocial” behaviors, and might even go hand in hand with extroversion.
On the other hand, having neurotic character traits suggests you tend to be more negative, self-destructive, and emotionally unstable. This might look like depression, anxiety, insecurity, fearfulness, or pessimism.
Environmental personality factors: Upbringing, culture, geographical location, life experiences, and more
While many people believe the OCEAN traits provide powerful insights into a person’s genetics, others tend to think environment comes much more into play: a.k.a., the surroundings we’re raised in and the life experiences we go through. For example: let’s say a person’s parents are exceptionally neurotic. This school of thought believes that, even if that might imply the child would be genetically inclined to inherit that same level of neuroticism, they’re capable of escaping that hereditary fate if they’re raised in an environment that is harmonious, healthy, balanced, and consistent. Of course, there are a few other environmental factors beyond the home you’re raised in that might affect your personality development: like culture, geographic location, or education.
A culture is made up of shared values, traditions, beliefs, and social norms that pertain to one group of people. When it comes to environmental factors playing into personality, culture is one of the top contenders for having a powerful effect. Individualistic cultures – like the U.S. – tend to have people who are more independent and career-driven, while collectivistic cultures are more likely to value the group’s needs over their own. If you are raised in a more conservative culture, you’re probably more likely to turn out quite conservative yourself – and it’s the same for someone raised in a more progressive environment. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules (which is a major reason this topic is still debated), but in general, culture seems to have a profound impact on personality development.
- Geographic location
Geographic location also seems to affect what a person is like to some degree. Depending on where you live, you’re exposed to a wide variety of experiences: like weather, existing culture, hardships, busyness, economy, and more. And those experiences are likely to have a say in your personality. A good example of this is the U.S. stereotype of West Coast people versus Midwest and Northeastern people: while West Coast people are known for being more laid back and passive, the Midwest is known for overt friendliness. Meanwhile, Northeastern folks tend to be seen as more stressed and less friendly. Although these are stereotypes and not universal regional truths, they tend to be spot on in many cases, which means geographic location must come into play at least a little bit when it comes to how people react to the world around them.
Education might also affect how someone behaves. If someone went to a strict Catholic school, they likely had a different experience from someone who went to a public school. In the same regard, someone who went to an Ivy League college was probably surrounded by a different environment than someone who went to a trade school. Each of these experiences are undeniably different, and probably have diverse accompanying cultures. If a school places major emphasis on studying and grades, a student might be more prone to stress or even depression, while someone who attended a more laid back or creative-leaning school might have experienced more freedom in their day-to-day.
What is DNA personality testing?
DNA personality testing examines someone’s DNA to explore the possibilities of their personality genetics: a.k.a., how likely are you to be a certain way based on your genetic makeup? There are quite a few DNA personality analysis options on the market, and whether you believe in nature, nurture, or a combination of the two, exploring the possible effects of nature can either help you confirm your theory or rule out some possibilities. DNA personality analysis can help you discover fascinating details about who you are: like whether or not you’re prone to taking risks, the likelihood that you’ll develop some sort of addiction, or what level of emotional stability you tend to maintain. A major, increasingly-mainstream option for DNA personality testing is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): an introspective questionnaire you can take online to determine what sort of personality genetics you might have.
The MBTI results will put you in one of 16 personality categories, based on the following characteristics:
- Extraversion versus introversion (E or I)
- Sensing versus intuition (S or N)
- Thinking versus feeling (T or F)
- Judging versus perceiving (J or P)