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How heredity and environment shap us

By Natalie0318 Dec 04, 2013 1691 Words
How heredity and environment shape us

Why am I so cold? Despite that numerous evidence have shown that nature and nurture are both responsible for the development of our personality, the nature and nurture concepts still stir up a lot of controversy. It is more important to know not to focus on how each affects us independently, but rather how they both interact with one another to create the unique individuals that we are. We each have different experiences as to the amount of effectiveness nature or nurture has in shaping us. When it comes to my own personality, I know that it has been greatly affected by nurture.

The ancient nature vs. nurture controversy pertains to the discussion whether our personality is an aspect that is predetermined by our genes (the nature theory), or is it the environment, for example experiences and learning processes, that make us behave the way we do (the nurture theory). Evidence has proven that both nature and nurture affect our personality. We are born with certain abilities and traits and nurture takes these inborn tendencies to mold us as we experience life, learn new things and gradually mature. The question is now how much of our personality is influenced by genes and how much by the environment. It is an endless discussion that has been going on for years and yet might still rage on for many years to come.

Supporters of nature say that personality has been passed down through our genes from generation to generation. Children, for example, resemble their parents by their physical appearance (like the same eye color, double chin, or skin complexion) and also by their more abstract traits (such as intelligence, extroversion, or aggression), and are also automatically in the future more susceptible to the same diseases as their parents (such as hypertension and diabetes mellitus). Joseph Le Doux, an author and professor of neural science at the New York University Center for Neural Science, points out in his article “Nature vs. Nurture: the Pendulum Still Swings with Plenty of Momentum” that the importance of genes has been proven with animals as well, for example, the way animal breeders utilize a process called controlled mating to breed dogs to get a desired behavior (1). Dogs are supposedly hunters until domesticated from the grey wolves thousands of years ago. Many breeds have been created since then to accommodate humans as herders, to pull loads, for protection, to assist police with investigations, to aid handicapped individuals or just for companionship. These dogs have been bred under close supervision and with a great amount of care through several generations to get the desired behavior. Furthermore, in an article “Nature vs. Nurture? Please don’t ask,” Mark Henderson, a Science Editor of The Times, mentions an experiment involving identical and fraternal twins. Fraternal twins were used because they are on a genetic level the closest related to one another than regular siblings. Both kinds of twins share the same environment. The results show that the identical twins share the same characteristics while the fraternal twins show less similarity with each other. The reason for this is because identical twins share their entire DNA and the fraternal twins share only half (2-3). This experiment is another indication that personality is innate. An additional supporting argument is by Steven Pinker, an experimental psychologist, linguist, author and professor at Harvard College, who states in his book The Blank Slate that people are born with skills and aspects of personality that can only be the result of heredity, for example, the capability of children to learn a language so easily must have an innate connection (148). Children have the ability for easy language acquisition, because of the unique structure of the speak organs that we humans possess. They have the ability to learn to speak very quickly, being that they have a vocabulary of 2000 words at age 5, which will double at the age of 7. Besides, language is unique to humans and that can only be because of inherited genes. Supporters of nurture say that we develop a personality as we live through life by experience, learning and interactions with our environment. What we inherit can change over time, for example, the influence that parents have on us when we were children and probably still even now as adults. They have taught us manners that we are expected to apply to our lives. If we were to act rude, punishment would be the tool to get us to the right path. This shows that synaptic plasticity is important in the development of our personality. People are born with preprogrammed synaptic links that are connected with each other in order for the brain to communicate. As we grow through life, we go through different experiences, which alter (either changing or improving) the synaptic links to accommodate us. This is called synaptic plasticity, a process that results in a change in behavior (Le Doux 1). At some point it was also thought that we are born blank slates, meaning that we are born without innate traits in our minds (completely empty minds). Our knowledge will come from experience from our parents and society as we grow each day (Pinker 148). When a baby is born, for example, we can shape it to become anything we want from a doctor to the most infamous thief on earth. There are no genetics involved but just an influencing environment. Research and experiment also believe that our childhood experiences and learning processes throughout life determine our mindset (Henderson 3). Identical twins, for example, actually rarely share 100 per cent of their DNA with each other and that their IQ scores only show around 70 percent similarity. This is an indication that there must be another factor (nurture) besides inheritance that plays a role in the development of our personality. When compared to my parents, I can see that nature has an input in my physical traits and personality as well. I am definitely a split image of my mother; we both have broad shoulders, wavy black hair, high cheekbones, slanted eyes, and a round face. Other than having the same shape hands and freckles, my father and I do not have a lot in common physically. My brother on the other hand resembles my father more. The only physical trait that my brother and I have in common is the slanted eyes. Attitudes like friendliness, generosity, loyalty, honesty, respectfulness, and thoughtfulness towards others are characteristics that I have in common with my brother and my parents. I am also very humble, caring, modest and kind like my mother.

When it comes to nurture I see that in my case it’s noticeable that I have other personality traits which I cannot find on either my parents or my brother, such as ambition, determination, and awareness of opportunities. I can see clear similarities in personality between my brother and my parents. They, for example, take life with a grain of salt, living a laid back life surrounded by friends and engaging in parties, while I am constantly worrying about the future and finding ways on how to improve my life and secure my and my children’s future. Even though, my brother and I are born from and raised by the same parents, yet we do not have the same personality. The only difference between he and I is that my brother has stayed with my parents for a much longer time than I did. I had a great desire for independence and went on my own when I was only 18 years old. My environment changed and I was exposed to different experiences from which I have learned so much more and which have changed my perception about life over time. As I matured in life, I also notice that I have become less friendly and less trustworthy of people. One example is that I was a friendly individual before I came to the United States. I always had a smile on my face and knew everyone and everyone knew me. As soon as I got to New York City, I realized that I had to change the way I was. I was very depressed because I did not understand why I could not just be myself. After carefully observing my environment, I learned that being too friendly in New York City unfortunately only makes me an easier target to crime. My personality has changed from being friendly and trustworthy to less friendly and more guarded due to survival.

Nature and nurture shape us to who we are today, but nurture does more of the work than nature. We are born with a set of traits, which lay the foundation to the individuals we are and any new trait would be impossible to experience unless there is change to our genetic material. These inherited traits are constantly changing as we grow older, because the environment influences us by altering and developing us even more over time. Henderson agrees that “Nature works through nurture, and nurture through nature, to shape our personalities, aptitudes, health and behaviour” (3). We need both to make us who we are, because they definitely go hand in hand. As I look at myself now and revisit my experiences from the very first day that I can remember to the present, I admit that nature is just as important as nurture in developing the woman that I am today. In my particular case it is obvious and fair to say that the environment I have been exposed to throughout my life impacted me more than nature actually did, and will still do so as long as I live.

After all said and done, people will still have their own opinion about nature and nurture, which means that this debate will last for a (long) while. It is quite clear that personality is indeed caused by genes and environment, not individually, but together as proven. A gene though may make us behave a certain way, but it does not make us do things. Don’t we still have the option to choose who we want to be when we grow up?

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