Today, many psychologists believe that both learned behaviors and inherited traits are factors that affect our health and personality. It’s no secret that some traits such as eye color are determined by the genes our parents pass on to us. Other physical traits are also believed to be influenced by genetics. But, when it comes to behavioral traits, which is the bigger influence?
Genetics play a part in determining many physical traits, such as height, weight and vulnerability to certain illnesses. This has led many people to consider the role our genes play in determining behavior. The earlier in life a trait expresses itself, the more likely it is that genetics played a role in its development.
Some people, known as nativists, believe that all of our traits and characteristics are determined by our genetic makeup. They believe that the characteristics that emerge as we grow older are governed by pre-programmed changes in the human body. Nativists believe these characteristics to include language development, attachment during infancy and even cognitive development.
While some of our psychological traits may be affected by genetic composition, many aspects of our personalities are developed through learning and exposure. For children, most of this influence comes from their parents or their peers. For example, parents can encourage a child to have good manners, while other kids could convince them to get themselves into trouble. Some people, called empiricists or environmentalists, believe that most or all of our behaviors come from learning rather than genes.
Studies involving twins or adoptive families provide great insight into how our environment affects our traits and personalities. Research shows that identical twins that are raised apart have much more similar personalities than pairs of randomly selected people. Also, biological siblings share more traits than adoptive siblings do. This suggests that, to some degree, personality is indeed inheritable.
However, adoptive siblings still develop similar personalities, which suggests that these shared behaviors were learned through their environments. These shared behaviors and values may in fact wear off in time, though, as studies have shown that adopted siblings are no more similar than strangers by adulthood.
Nature Versus Nurture
Today, most experts believe that our development is influenced by both genetics and learning. There is too much supporting evidence for both sources to support an all-or-nothing view. However, the debate on how much a given trait is affected by our genes or environment continues. Researchers today are focused on ways that genes influence the way we learn from our environment, as well as how our environment can affect hereditary behaviors.
Research shows that genetic makeup and environmental factors both play key roles in making us who we are. Our genes determine many of our physical traits and could influence how we develop based on our experiences.
In turn, these experiences and our environment shape us into the people we are as adults. The question to ask is not whether a behavior is learned or genetic, but what parts hereditary or environmental factors played in the development of a behavior.