Nature vs. Nurture in Personality Development

Introduction

The opposition of nature and nurture and their respective roles in personality development has been at the center of scientific discussion for many years. Different theories justify the importance of each part of the debate; however, there is no clear answer to what determines an individual’s behavior and development: nature or nurture. On the one hand, it is proven that genetics, which represents the nature part, influences how a person looks, his or her features of appearance, which are usually innate and bear resemblance to parents. On the other hand, there is no clear identification concerning the development of a personality, character traits, or pattern of behavior.

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Both nature and nurture’s impact might explain the way a person grows intellectually, what talents he or she acquires, and how his or her character develops. Nonetheless, the long-lasting argument between innate predisposition and the influence of the environment on a person’s development is yet to be resolved. Many studies are conducted by psychologists, neurobiologists, and other scientists around the world to examine the mechanisms of nature/nurture impact (Bates et al., 2018; Daw, Guo, & Harris, 2015; Fox, 2017). In this paper, research on the topic of nature and nurture will be analyzed to present a concise overview of the phenomena’ impact on character traits, creativity, intelligence, and emotional sphere.

The Role of Nature and Nurture in the Character Traits Development

The secrets of the origins of human behavior have always worried researchers in the psychological field. People might behave, act, or respond to social triggers in different ways, as well as form relationships and communicate with others in different manners. The focus of research is on what determines the ways one’s personality is formed. From one perspective, the predisposition to a certain pattern of behavior might be caused by nature, which embraces genetic information or the features inherited from parents. From a different perspective, nurture, or the influence of the environment, such as the style of upbringing, childhood experiences, teachers’ and peers’ contribution, plays a significant role in the forming of one’s character. A significant scope of literature available on this topic contributes to the understanding of the influential factors determining human personality traits.

Personality evolves and changes alongside physical features throughout the life of an individual. However, it is unclear what determines the changes, nurture or nature. Roysamb, Nes, Czajkowski, and Vassend (2018) conducted a study in which they attempted to examine to what extent genes and environment impact personality and their ultimate role in one’s wellbeing and life satisfaction. The authors claim that life satisfaction is closely related to personality traits such as neuroticism or extraversion. The level of well-being depends on the extent to which a certain feature is dominant. Interestingly, previous research referenced by Roysamb et al. (2018), indicates a high level of heritability of character traits responsible for well-being.

Indeed, recent studies cited by the authors of the analyzed article indicate that neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness are the character traits that a person inherits from parents and does not primarily acquire via the environment. An experimental study with a group of twins showed that “neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness were all significantly correlated with life satisfaction” (Roysamb et al., 2018, p. 3). This information leads to a logical conclusion that life satisfaction is inherited and is largely influenced by nature. However, the result of the experiment also indicated a partial impact of nurture on the forming of personality traits. Such features as inclination to anxiety and depression are driven by environmental factors more than by genetics (Roysamb et al., 2018). Thus, nature and nurture work in collaboration to form personality; moreover, the combination of these factors varies during the lifespan and might differ even in twins.

Another consideration concerning personality predispositions and the development of certain character traits in people depending on their genes or upbringing is related to the issue of deviant behavior. The question of whether nature determines one’s criminal behavior or it is the result of social influences has been broadly addressed by psychologists and criminologists. According to Fox (2017), there are researchers and theorists who support the theory of biological influence on deviance in behavior, and those who see the roots of the problem only in the social environment. Such an explanation of criminal actions from an environmental point of view is based on the theory of social learning, “which posits that criminal behavior is learned through peer association” (Fox, 2017, p. 22). However, Fox makes an attempt to combine the two theories in one and provide a biosocial perspective on criminal behavior.

A set of personality traits that cause a person to become prone to deviant actions is a product of both nature and nurture. Fox (2017) refers to earlier findings in this field and emphasizes the fact that identical twins have a similar predisposition to criminal behavior. Such information shows that genetics plays a significant role in the acquisition of deviant actions. However, some examples of antisocial behavior developing in a person brought up in a family where he or she is the only one showing such a tendency. Thus, research was dedicated to the investigation of the influence of the environment on human character traits. The authority of peers’ opinions and attitudes, a combination of childhood experiences, upbringing styles, school attendance, and other factors are regarded as environmental determinants (Fox, 2017). Nonetheless, the existence of these two approaches does not exclude either of them.

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Within this framework, it is logical to design a theory capable of integrating nature and nurture as the two influential factors contributing to antisocial personality traits. It has been found that approximately “60% of the variation in antisocial and criminal behavior” belongs to genetic factors, and the rest is influenced by the environment (Fox, 2017, p. 24). Therefore, the biosocial theory integrates both nurture and nature to explain the origins of human character traits and behavior. Such an approach justifies the inseparability of the two.

Nature, Nurture, and Emotional Systems

Similar to the development of personality traits, emotional systems represented in the form of brain reactions to different stimuli are also investigated with an application of nature and nurture opposition. Although this is a narrow issue, it deserves to be addressed because emotions constitute a big part of the psychological field of research. In their study, Montag et al. (2016) researched to what extent genetics influences the emotions of individuals. Seven hundred and ninety-five individuals participated in the research, a part of them were twins, and others were siblings with age differences not more than three years (Montag et al., 2016). A questionnaire was introduced to a sibling or twin pairs to calculate the rates of the similarity of their emotional experiences, which would contribute to the understanding of the role of genetics. The results showed that the prevalent importance of genetic influence on the development of such emotions as “fear, anger, and sadness” (Montag et al., 2016, para. 15). However, seeing care and spirituality were mostly determined by environmental factors. These findings contribute to the claim that the impact of both nature and nurture is important in the personality development process.

Nature and Nurture’s Influence on Creativity and Intelligence

One of the broadest issues covered in the academic literature on nurture and nature is the one examining the origins of intellectual abilities and creativity. Intelligence as a set of skills allowing for reasoning, analyzing, or resolving intellectual problems provides many opportunities for success in life. Plomin and Stumm (2018) found that intelligence is approximately 20-50% heritable, meaning that genetics plays a very significant role in how a child will do in school. Similar indications are presented by Rimfeld, Kovas, Dale, and Plomin (2016) who argue that nature significantly predetermines one’s intellectual capabilities.

However, the fact that none of the studies showed a 100% relation of intelligence to genetic material implies the importance of nurture, too. Grounding on a strong theoretical basis, Daw et al. (2015) provide a broad discussion of the environmental influence on the academic attainment of students. The researchers conducted a study with twins whose intellectual abilities and academic success was measured with regard to their shared and non-shared environments. It was proven that there is a strong influence of nurture on academic attainment and verbal intelligence (Daw et al., 2015). This provides more information concerning the extent to which parental impact might be decisive in the developmental process of children.

With the advancement in the field of nature/nurture opposition, there might appear a new insight into the power of parenting. According to Bates et al. (2018), the testing of parental effects showed that academic success depends not only on genetic predispositions but also on the style of upbringing and the overall influence parents have on their children. Thus, although intelligence is significantly predetermined by nature, it is possible to apply nurturing techniques to make a change and improve individuals’ abilities in learning and reasoning.

Alongside intellectual abilities, there is creativity and the ability to perceive art. One of the studies devoted to the influence of genetics and environment on these features was conducted by Seesjarvi et al. (2016). The researchers examined how the ability of music perception is determined by nature or nurture in twins. The participants were given two different tasks aimed at the examination of their abilities to understand and analyze music. The first one asked the twins to detect changes of pitch in two melodies, and the other required them to identify “key and rhythm incongruities” within one melody (Seesjarvi et al., 2016, p. 506). The results of the study showed that genetics was more influential in the completion of the first task when the success at the second one was determined primarily by environmental influence. Thus, in both intellectual abilities and creativity, nature and nurture share their influence and should be referred to as a combination of factors.

Conclusion

To sum up, the long-lasting debate between the role of nature and nurture in personality development across the lifespan has been the focus of psychological research for many decades. With the advancement in the field of genetics, this topic has gained more attention, which led to significant findings in the area. However, as the discussion presented in this paper shows, there is still no accurate understanding of the extent to which environment or genetics predetermine human health, behavior, talents, and overall well-being. While specific measurements and conclusions are available upon narrow studies, the general idea is that nature and nurture are intertwined, and their influences cannot be separated.

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References

Bates, T. C., Maher, B. S., Medland, S. E., McAloney, K., Wright, M. J., Hansell, N. K., … Gillespie, N. A. (2018). The nature of nurture: Using a virtual-parent design to test parenting effects on children’s educational attainment in genotyped families. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 21(2), 73-83.

Daw, J., Guo, G., & Harris, K. M. (2015). Nurture net of nature: Re-evaluating the role of shared environments in academic achievement and verbal intelligence. Social Science Research, 52, 422-439.

Fox, B.H. (2017). It’s nature and nurture: Integrating biology and genetics into the social learning theory of criminal behavior. Journal of Criminal Justice, 49, 22-31.

Montag, C., Hahn, E., Reuter, M., Spinath, F. M., Davis, K., & Panksepp, J. (2016). The role of nature and nurture for individual differences in primary emotional systems: Evidence from a twin study. PLOS ONE 11(6): e0157200. Web.

Plomin, R., & von Stumm, S. (2018). The new genetics of intelligence. Nature Reviews. Genetics, 19(3), 148-159.

Rimfeld, K., Kovas, Y., Dale, P. S., & Plomin, R. (2016). True grit and genetics: Predicting academic achievement from personality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), 780-789.

Roysamb, E., Nes, R. B., Czajkowski, N. O., & Vassend, O. (2018). Genetics, personality and wellbeing. A twin study of traits, facets and life satisfaction. Scientific Reports, 8. Web.

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Seesjarvi, E., Sarkamo, T., Vuoksimaa, E., Tervaniemi, M., Peretz, I., & Kaprio, J. (2016). The nature and nurture of melody: A twin study of musical pitch and rhythm perception. Behavior Genetics, 46(4), 506-515.

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