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Are Personalities Inherited or Built?

This kid at the school science fair had a really cool project looking at how closely people’s personalities align with the traits commonly assigned to various star signs.  I know that doesn’t sound very scientific, but it was more in the personality psychology vein.  Anyway, he had you circle 5 positive traits about yourself and 5 negative traits to join the research.

While I didn’t align at all with Gemini traits, it was interesting to boil down my personality to a few adjectives.  I wish I could find the sheet.  The only things I remember putting down were anxious and inflexible.

My parents are not anxious or inflexible, so I didn’t learn this from them.  My kids are not inflexible, but they are definitely anxious.  Actually, they’re anxious-lite; more cautious than anxious.

Anyway, on the heels of that science fair project, the Atlantic had a very interesting article on personality psychology that outlined this question: “To what extent is our personality given to us, and to what extent do we make it ourselves?”

I definitely didn’t choose to be anxious, and I don’t enjoy being anxious, but while I can temper my anxiety from day to day, it would feel really unnatural to try to be carefree.  I’m just not a carefree, wind-in-my-hair type person, and it would feel as if I were acting if I pretended otherwise.  So… inherited… right?  Except it’s probably learned?  But from where?

It’s an interesting discussion, and the Atlantic article made me want to read more about it.  Not about Trump as it states at the end of the article, since he makes me tired, but personality psychology in general as applied to myself.  Because it’s all about meeeeeeeeeeee.

Do you have the same personality traits as your parents?

10 comments

1 SuzannaCatherine { 07.12.16 at 9:37 am }

My mother married young and she was a very young mother. She is also by nature melancholy and extremely anxious. She was a very “hovering” sort of mother. A strict, but loving, disciplinarian. The older I get, the more of her traits I see in myself. However, Daddy was the “class clown” – one of 9 children – he stood out from the rest and thankfully I got his sense of humour. Back in the day, I believe this argument was called “nature vs nurture”. I’m glad I’m a little of both. I have a tendency to be more like Mama (everything bordered in black), but I try to rein that side in a wee bit.

I agree it’s a fascinating subject and I love reading about it, too.

2 Sharon { 07.12.16 at 12:55 pm }

I have long thought that personality is mostly inherited vs. formed, and having fraternal twins has made me even more convinced of this. Our sons (now 4.5 years old) have been night-and-day different from day one, and it is not due to anything my husband and I have done.

I share many personality traits with my father and almost none with my mother. My sister is not really like either of our parents.

3 a { 07.12.16 at 4:14 pm }

I’m not really like either one of my parents, personality-wise, but my daughter is so much her father that it’s unbelievable. Their minds operate the same way. I try to direct her down a different path of thinking about things, but I don’t know if I can overcome my husband’s genetics. Every now and then, I’ll see some hint of myself, and I hope that she’ll work out to be a good mix. But I doubt it…

4 Cristy { 07.12.16 at 5:54 pm }

The question of whether we inherit our personalities vs we learn them is one that developmental psychologists have long been interested in. In a similar vein is questions of consciousness and defining self.

I agree with the Atlantic article that there our traits are fluid and that there are aspects that we chose for ourselves. That said, I also believe there are traits we inherit. Whether it’s a genetics, learned in utero or a combination of the above is still unknown.

On that note, I am a classic Capricorn. So maybe it’s the stars.

5 torthuil { 07.13.16 at 12:50 am }

Have thought about this off and on over the years. I consider myself anxious. Not to the point of needing professional intervention (most of the time) but still it’s a factor in my life. My parents were / are worriers for sure. I’m pretty sure life experiences helped create that (some serious trauma in my dad’s case especially). I think I am dealing with the anxiety somewhat better than them at this point in my life because I have the ability, at least sometimes, to recognize it for what it is rather than letting it affect my interactions with the world without awareness. At least at this point in her life, I would say my daughter is NOT anxious at all and I’m thrilled for her! I hope it is not genetic because that means I can through my awareness and mindfulness raise her without what is in a lot if ways a disabilty (and occasionally useful….but generally unpleasant)

6 Working mom of 2 { 07.13.16 at 1:44 am }

Interesting question. Like you I have traits I would not choose–such as perfectionistism–and not in a humble brag way, but more in an I am so hard on myself I make myself miserable way. I see this a little in my older daughter but not my youngest. I don’t think my kids have really observed this aspect of me…I also have some of my dad’s traits, which is interesting. And my sister who grew up in the same house is very different from me in many ways…

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.13.16 at 12:00 pm }

The most fascinating thing about the Atlantic article for me is the “meta” component, the the story we construct for and about ourselves that joins the interplay between what we inherit and what we build.

I wonder what it was like for McAdams to get into Trump’s head. Dare I look for an account of it?

8 Ashley { 07.14.16 at 8:58 am }

My son and I are watching a show called Switched at Birth (we are watching on Netflix, so we are only on season two). This interesting topic is something the show toys with, in how the girls who were switched and raised by very different families are still like their biological family in some ways. As the mother of children adopted from foster care, I take the idea of our personalities not being totally predetermined by genetics sort of more seriously. It is my hope that my children can break the cycles (which for one is at least 3 generations deep) that caused the dysfunction in their families. I think temperament is something that is based in genetics but also shaped by life experiences. So, my thinking is different life experiences could equate a different outcome.

As an aside, there have been studies done regarding twins who were not raised together (so adopted separately) and yet had a lot more in common than any random sampling of similar-aged individuals. I don’t know of any specifically, but I’m sure you could readily find some….

9 Mali { 07.14.16 at 7:17 pm }

This is always such an interesting area, and I am keen now to go read more about narrative identities. I see this idea at work in one of my sisters in particular. I do think behaviours modelled by our parents may push us one way or another, or in the case of siblings, we both may react to the same parenting in a different way, and go in opposite directions. Of course, who knows if it is as much innate as it is a response to our life experiences. Certainly not me. Still, it makes me wonder. Maybe some of your anxiety/inflexibility comes from something that happened when your parents were being relaxed and flexible? Or maybe it’s innate, or genetic, or the stars, or something you ate! 😉

I think ultimately I’m less worried about why I am the way I am, than about how I can live with that or change it. But not everyone can do that, or attempts some self-awareness. So understanding why people are the way they are can help our relationships (it’s helping me understand someone at the moment). I find it all fascinating.

10 Valery Valentina { 07.18.16 at 5:51 pm }

wind-in-my-hair Gemini here. I remember my brother and I both taking that personality test where you get the letters as a score (F-feeling T thinking etc) and to our surprise we had the exact same score, while generally we feel like we are opposites.
I should add that genetically we are also ‘opposites’ him blue-eyed blond while I’m the green-eyed brunette. And of course as a DE mother very curious to how my daughter will grow up. (So from that point of view it is reassuring to not look like my brother at all)

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