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Nature or nurture: how is personality formed?

A person’s traits are easily associable with their parents, but characterizing and identifying the origin of personality is more complex. For example, green eyes can be associated with the mother and freckles with the father, and the same can be said of the rest of the physical traits and some physiological ones, but emotionality and singing talent do not usually have a clear origin. And the question that arises is whether they are built-in characteristics and abilities or have a genetic, hereditary basis, like physical characteristics. The question has not yet had a definitive answer, and on it the discussion on the incidence of hereditary aspects opposed to education, or upbringing in general, in the formation of personality is maintained.

Personality is a psychological concept that does not have an unambiguous definition and that is usually described through its characteristics. It can be said that they are the feelings, emotions and thoughts associated with a person’s behavior, which are expressed in a temporary continuity and in different situations. It is a distinctive aspect of each individual. Personality is decisive in the development of people’s skills and in their social integration.

nature or education

The terms nature and education, nature and nurture , to describe hereditary aspects and the incidence of the environment in human development date back to 13th century France. Schematically it is affirmed that people behave according to their natural predisposition or even following their animal instincts, which is known as the theory of the nature of human behavior , while on the other hand it is maintained that people think and behave accordingly. certain way because they have been taught to do it, that is, they acquired it in the environment in which they developed.

Advances in the study of the human genome have highlighted that it is both aspects that affect the development of people. There are skills and traits that are innate, inherited, and education shapes them through learning and the maturation that experience provides. But the form and degree of incidence of each of the two aspects is the subject of investigation and discussion.

The Heritage

Mother and daughter. Mother and daughter

It is well known that traits such as eye and hair color are determined by specific genes encoded in each human cell. The theory that hereditary factors determine personality formation goes a step further by suggesting that traits such as intelligence, aggressiveness, and sexual orientation may also be encoded in an individual’s DNA. The search for behavioral genes is a source of controversy that involves ethical aspects, since it could happen that genetic information is used to segregate or marginalize people due to their supposed tendency to have antisocial behavior.

A highly controversial aspect is the existence of a homosexual gene, which would lead to the argument that when such a genetic coding exists, the sexual orientation of people would be at least influenced by innate aspects. Contradictory conclusions from limited research and with inconsistent premises have been published on several occasions. In 2018, extensive work was published as a result of a collaboration between the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Harvard Medical School in Boston, which studied the possible links of DNA with sexual behavior. The study determined that there are four genetic variables located on chromosomes 7, 11, 12 and 15 that seem to have some correlation in same-sex attraction; two of these specific factors are presented by men.per se , explaining that ” rather, non-heterosexuality is partly influenced by many small genetic effects ,” clarifying that a correlation would still have to be established between the variants they had identified and the actual genes. And that almost nothing is known about the genetics of sexual behavior. The final conclusion was that the four genetic variants could not be defined as predictors of sexual orientation.

The education

Familiar surroundings Familiar surroundings

Although they do not completely rule out that there may be a genetic tendency, supporters of education as a determining aspect of personality affirm that, ultimately, they are not relevant. They believe that our behavioral traits are defined solely by the environmental factors that come with our upbringing. Studies on the temperament of infants and children have provided the most convincing arguments for this theory.

The American psychologist John Watson published in 1920 a work that showed that the acquisition of a phobia could be explained by classical conditioning. While at Johns Hopkins University, John Watson conducted a series of experiments on a nine-month-old orphaned boy named Albert. Using methods similar to those used by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov with dogs, Watson conditioned the infant to make certain associations based on paired stimuli. Every time the boy was given a certain object he accompanied it with a loud and terrifying noise. Over time the child learned to associate the object with fear, whether the noise was present or not..

The twin sibling study

Twin brothers Twin brothers

The study of the personality development of twin brothers shows the incidence of heredity. If the development of two twin brothers raised in the same environment is studied, in which case the education is similar in both, it is observed that they have greater similarities than in the case of non-twin brothers. But they also show striking similarities when they develop apart from each other, in different environments, displaying similar personality traits.

If the environment in which they develop did not play a role in determining an individual’s traits and behaviors, then twin brothers should have the same personalities, even if they are raised apart. Studies show that identical twin brothers are never exactly the same, although they are very similar in many ways. For example, a study published in 2000 by researchers at St. Thomas Hospital in London concluded that a sense of humor is a learned trait influenced by family and cultural background rather than genetic predetermination.

It is not nature or education: it is nature AND education

So is the way we behave predetermined before we are born, or does it develop over time based on our learning and experiences? There is agreement among researchers that there is no cause-effect relationship between the existence of a gene and a behavior. While a gene may increase the likelihood that a person will behave in a particular way, it does not ultimately predetermine behavior. The personality of any person is a combination between her heritage and her upbringing.


Ana Gimeno-Bayon Cobos. Understanding how we are: dimensions of personality. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer, Bilbao, Spain, 2006.

Michael Price. Giant Study Links DNA Variants to Same-Sex Behavior . . _ October 20, 2018.