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Personality Development

September 4, 2018

I spend a lot of my time now reading. I cover a lot of subjects but like to stay with non fiction in the social sciences and humanities. Things like history, sociology, economics, psychology, and anthropology. I also read books on politics and geopolitics. One field tends to blend into another with concepts and overlaps between fields. One subject that keeps popping up somehow in all fields is personality. After readings in psychology and neurology and then turing to history or politics I find myself looking at the personalities of the people involved and wondering about motivation and what influences may have caused the people to have acted the way they did.

Since psychology branched off as a separate field psychologists have been trying to answer the questions of motivation and causes of behavior.  Different theories have been popular over the last hundred years and fifty years or more. Most of the debate has been over have much of our personality is set by our DNA and how much by the environment. They used to call this a debate between nature and nuture. The terms have changed and varied over the years. I like to use the terms DNA and environment. Those terms seem to be more current and up to date, which is where we all want to appear to be. Some studies indicates that we would rather appear to be up to date than be up to date, that we place a high value on our standing and reputation. But that is a dicussion to be left for another day. But back to DNA and environment. In the early 1900’s the environmentalists ruled. We were thought to be born with brains as blank states which could be shaped and formed as we grew so that any of us could become anything depending on our education and other influences. The prevailing view was that our personalities developed as we grew depending on the environment and our choices.  Later on in the century some psychologists and neurologists began to disagree. They felt that genetics and hereditary had more of an influence. As brain research progressed the nature side began to win out. Then as the century went in the nature theory began to lose out and the blank state theories again had more influence. The nature theory became politically incorrect. The argument  that people could be born with different abilities, traits or talents became unacceptable.

A turning point came with identical twin studies. Identical twins are the only people who are born with identical DNA. Studies were done with identical twins opposed to fraternal twins both raised together and raised separately in similar and diverse circumstances. The results of the research and studies were that identical twins were more alike than chance would predict. Neurologists discovered DNA differences by gene and gene mutations could affect development and brain development. Personalities and other traits did show they were inheritable. Not everyone has accepted those studies and their results. So the debate goes on. How much of our personality is set by our DNA and how much is set by our environment.

The current consensus seems to allow for a combination of the two.  The DNA is like a blueprint drawn by an architect to build a building. The blueprint is given to the builders who construct the building. They follow the blueprint but for different reasons may make changes and deviate from the original blueprint.

The above is far from a perfect analogy.  A person is not a building but I believe we can conclude there are flaws in the DNA argument. But the  adult is not necessarily going to be the same as his DNA would have prescribed any more that a completed building will necessarily be as shown on the original blueprint. Identical  twins are not perfectly alike as adults but in the beginning their DNA was the same. They are more alike than would be expected by the blank state theory. The studies have shown that both DNA and environment play roles.

Personalities of most people fall within a what is called a normal range. No two people are just alike but are similar in there behavior and in their emotional states. Some individuals are different are are outside the normal range.  These people are sometimes called eccentric. Psychologists would say they have personality disorders. There are s smaller number further outside the normal range that are said to be mentally ill. The question for debate is what causes those individuals to behave differently, outside the normal bounds of behavior. Researchers have discovered certain gene mutations that appear in many of those individuals. Research also is ongoing on environmental factors that may cause these differences. More study and thought hopefully will bring us a greater understanding of how humans develop and become who they are. Or rather how we develope and become who we are.

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From → Observation

16 Comments
  1. Very good! You just passed psych 101-201. 🙂 Been there, done that. Nicely explained. If you are not already informed, pick up Maslow.. and look over Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs.
    At some point you’ll reach a point in all this where you can see the immediate need for a national mental health policy.

    • Studied Maslow back in the sixties when I was in college. Never thought much of his theories.
      Lot’s of people have not taken any psychology at all.

    • That’s for your comment.

  2. Carmen permalink

    I think, too, that our personalities develop – and perhaps change – as we age. I know that I am certainly not as fiery as I once was, perhaps because I don’t have the stresses I once had (?). Or does age make us more wise? (Oh, and I’m a late fifties ‘kid’)

    • I agree that our personalities keep developing and we change as we get older. The brain is plastic like and keeps changing. I think our judgement improves and we handle stress and problems better. At least until we are in our mid or late sixties. After that, not so sure. At some point our brain cells start dying off.

      • Carmen permalink

        Yes, I agree that priorities change drastically. Perhaps I just don’t want to face the unpleasant reality that brain cells start dying off and endeavour to keep the old noggin stimulated. 🙂

      • Sadly, not only is aging a battle to maintain relevance in the world, it’s also a battle to maintain relevance to ourselves.

    • Personal priorities change throughout life hence also the degree of our response to them. Age likely matters more toward our perception of what is a priority in life rather than our ability to assign the necessary or desired passion to address them.

  3. This is an interesting topic and a personal one for me. I have a close relative who is a narcissist and a criminal. This person also has some strong sociopathic tendencies. Over the years I have struggled with some troubling tendencies but I was brought up in a loving, nurturing, Christian environment and that has shaped me more profoundly than DNA/nurture. I do believe that a person is shaped by a combination of these two factors. Someone who has the DNA (tendencies) AND is badly physically and psychologically abused is in the perfect environment for a personality disorder to evolve.

    • Agree. The correct environment as you have stated can overcome the DNA tendencies. And sting influences by caring adults outside the family can also overcome those tendencies. It is hard for me to believe that anyone will be unable to over the tendencies in the right environment.

      • It is a troubling question, because it raises disturbing conclusions that prod and even challenge our belief systems. Or, it has the potential to do that, in my case anyway. I’ve always wondered about the BTK serial killer, Dennis Rader. Here is a man who had no history of child abuse–he says there was none and his family says there was none and yet, he claims from the onslaught of puberty–even before–he had violent sexual fantasies. Did he have to act on those fantasies? No. Of course not. But where did they come from? Why was he–assuming that all is as he says–having come from a normal home, without any abuse, prone to these abnormal fantasies?

      • There are different kinds of abuse. Neglect may be worst kind of abuse. Other abuse could be verbal or emotional. Genetic or DNA could have causes defect in brain de elopement. Other environment factors before or after birth. No real answers yet. Research is being done. Maybe answers will be found.

  4. What an interesting article.I think genetics sure has a weight in our personalities but then different environments and backgrounds and experiences shapes our personalities that I suppose is in constant evolution as we are and the works is.

  5. Very interesting article.i think so that genetics has certainly a big role but the different environments,backgrounds and experiences shape our personalities in different ways.Also I think we are in constant evolution,never a day like the other.

  6. Glad to come visit your blog, and I did not think I would want to read political issues (not that I am unaware of them – trust that they are truly troubling in my mind). I have read a lot of psychology too and it has been a major interest over the years. I will be 77 in November, so by some definitions I am old too. All creatures are capable of aberrant behavior; some years ago primates who had never killed except if they were attacked began to attack, kill, and eat other primates for no apparent reason. There was not a food shortage for them. A person does not need to be neglected or have any other former reason for doing horrible things to others. Our brains can short-circuit just as happens in nature from time to time. There does not need to be a reason for any of it. In prehistoric times, as well as in later times, mankind devised torture and death instruments that create horror to anyone viewing them, and these were used frequently through the centuries by many different people, and I seriously doubt that all of those people who did those dreadful things were all physically or psychologically tormented.

    As for the President of the US, and I am not saying I have any empathy with him at all, but what I am saying is that this issue is so much bigger than the man himself. Yes, he may be stimulating people to do terrible things, but at the same time, this kind of warped philosophy of living has been going on now for years and our government sliding into a sort of mud-bath of politics, and there is very little ethics in any corner today. Most of the people in government are there because of the power and the money. Our government has long not been one of, by, or for the people. We see it every day on the streets where the common folk live and work. We see all sorts of violence, all sorts of irrational actions, people murdering and otherwise abusing each other and their children en masse. It is no longer the occasional incident that we read. It is a daily occurrence, and more often than not, the people offer no reasons for their actions.

    Remember, it is easy and a strong tendency to blame one specific person for anything that happens in the government, but the government is made up of hundreds and thousands of players, and even Hitler was not THAT strong on his own. So this is to say that the situation we are in now is a highly complex issue, involving hundreds of thousands and perhaps billions of players throughout the world. It has been building for a long time so we should not be shocked. Cultures throughout the world and throughout the centuries have risen and fallen, so what we are going through today may have different players and different costumes and settings, but it is not new. Thank you for your good posts.

  7. I turned seventy six last June. That puts us about the same age. Class of 60 high school and 64 college for me. Then law school and a career with a corporation. A man in a grey flannel suit. I retired in 2009 and have enjoyed it. My working years seem long in the past. I have been doing a lot of reading mostly history and other social sciences. Feels like being back in college.

    I majored in psychology in college. We were discussing behavior and the reasons for it back then. We read Brave New World and some other classics and discussed them. We still are debating why people behave the way they do. We do know more about brain functions and how changes in different parts of the brain affect behavior.

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