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Classics In Personality Theory
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Discuss the extent to which personality traits are a product of genetic influences
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Oliver Mason
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Discuss the extent to which personality traits are a product of genetic influences
“Personality is the dynamic organization within the individual of those psychophysical systems that determine his characteristics behaviour and thought” (Allport, 1961, p. 28). This suggests that personality is something that is inside each and every one of us, which is made up of distinct personalised attributes. These personal attributes shape individuals into the person they are. Some may argue that it is not only genetics that influence personality traits, but environmental factors and individuals’ upbringings also contribute to it. All of these factors are different for individuals; thus, explaining why every individual’s personality traits are different.

Personality traits are an individuals’ thoughts, behaviours and feelings which everyone as. Personality traits are very complex and are not influenced by just one thing, but a collection of things such as genetic factors and environmental factors. Genetic factors are passed down from biological parents to the infant when they are born. Environmental factors are things outside of the body that will influence a person such as upbringing, peer groups, economic status etc. On the one hand, many psychologists argue that personality traits are largely influenced by genetics, and are passed down from generations. The idea of heritability looks at how much of certain personality traits are inherited from genes. The degree of genetic similarity aims to pinpoint the percentage of how similar the genetics of types of people are. It states that there is 0% similarity in genetics between adoptive siblings or adoptive parent and adoptive child; 50% of similarity in genetics between dizygotic twins, biological siblings or biological parent and biological child; and 100% similarity between monozygotic twins. Riemann, R., Angleinter, A., ; Strelau, J. (1997) studied personality traits in dizygotic and monozygotic twins in order to see if genetics played a part in personality. If this was the case, one could presume, according to the degree of similarity, monozygotic twins would have personality traits that were 100% similar and dizygotic twins would be 50% similar. Reimann et al (1997) looked at 5 personality traits in both MZ and DZ and found that MZ twins had more similar personality traits than DZ. In the personality trait of extraversion, MZ were rated 0.56 and DZ were 0.28, using the formula h2 = (rMZ – rDZ) x 2, it was found that just over half the variance in extraversion personality traits were due to genetics. This study supports the idea that genetics largely influence personality traits as it shows that the majority of twins’ personality traits are extremely similar as they share between 50-100% of genetics. However genetic studies tend to ignore how MZ and DZ twins are treated differently by relatives and friends and the environment they are raised in may vary which could cause different personality traits.

On the other hand, the environment has been seen to have a large influence on personality traits of individuals. Environmental traits can be divided into two types of environmental influences, shared environment influences and nonshared environment influences. Shared environment influences are things that are shared by all siblings in the family such as a home, diet, parental style and economic status. Nonshared environment influences are things that are unique to each induvial, for example complications during pregnancy and/or birth, friendship groups, gender specific treatment and order of birth of individual children. Both shared and nonshared environmental influences have a large impact on an individual’s personality. Dunn and Plomin (1990) studied other psychologists work into environmental factors, both shared and nonshared, and genetics to see what they concluded as the more influential factor in personality traits. Overall it was found that nonshared environments more important for majority of personality development than shared environment. They found that personality traits were 40% genetic, 5% shared environment, 35% non-shared environment, 20% error. This study proves that environmental traits do largely influence an individual’s personality trait.
Furthermore, it can be argued that personality traits are not a product of genetics nor environmental interactions alone but it is the combination of genetics and environmental interactions that influence personality traits. Scarr and McCartney (1983) looked at how genetics may influence environments and as a result impact personality trait. They suggested 3 environmental effects that could impact this. They suggested a passive environmental effect where a parent’s personality trait is genetically passed on to child but the parents facilitate an environment thus encouraging the trait. For instance, the parent may genetically pass on a musical gene to their child but also buy the child musical instruments and take them to singing lessons which then reinforces the trait on the child. Scarr and McCartney (1983) also proposed an active environmental effect, defined as a parent’s personality trait being genetically passed on but the child then actively seeks out a suitable environment for the trait to show. For example, the parent may pass on a genetically outgoing trait and therefore the child seeks a quiet and introvert friendship group so their extrovert personality can show. Finally, they suggested an evocative environmental effect in which the parent’s personality trait is genetically passed on to the child but the child evokes certain types of reactions in different environments to enforce personality trait. An example of this would be a child who has inherited a happy personality from parents gaining smiles and laughs from the people around them.

In conclusion, I believe that although genetics are a factor in influencing personality traits, they are not the only factor. The idiographic approach describes individuals as unique and like no other person, therefore there has to be other factors that contribute to personality traits, otherwise all genetically related people would act and behave the same. I believe genetics and environmental factors interlink and together influence personality traits.

Allport, G. W. (1937). Personality: A psychological interpretation. New York: H. Holt and. Company
Riemann, R., Angleinter, A., ; Strelau, J. (1997). Genetic and environmental influences on personality https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bb6a/0cd1b4a435008d4650dacf72517cdfdd6c39.pdfstudy of twins reared together using the self and peer report NEO-FFI scales
Scarr, S., ; McCartney, K. (1983). How people make their own environments: A theory of genotype-environment effects. Child Development, 54, 424-435.