Monday, August 27, 2007

Nature or Nurture

by Brenda Roger

I’ve been considering the nature vs. nurture dilemma quite a bit in the past few weeks. It has always been interesting to me because I have only one sibling and she is adopted, while I am by parents’ biological child (or the extra special bonus prize as I sarcastically like to call myself). My sister’s choices and behavior have always been mysterious to me. She has four children, and their behavior and personalities suggest that certain personality traits are imprinted on a human being. They do things that she did when she was little that they couldn't have ever seen her do in order to learn them.

In an effort to better understand my sister, I’ve been trying to separate my own personality traits into two categories: inherited and experiential. If you never tried to do this, I would recommend it. It is fascinating because it is really difficult to differentiate between the two. This photograph shows me when I was about seven, holding a Springer Spaniel puppy. When my husband saw this photograph he said, “even your eyes look happy.” I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t like animals, but was I born with that, or did something happen that I don’t remember that made me interested in animals?

I'm not excessively neat. I like a good pile of magazines or fabrics going every which way. I would love to be neat, as I enjoy a well arranged and tidy space, but that is something that I have to work at. It doesn't come naturally. If I was only a product of my enviroment, then I would be very neat without much thought or effort.

It is valuable for a writer of fiction to consider what parts of personality are hereditary and what parts are formed by experience. Try to do this exercise with one of your characters. It is much easier to do with a made up person. Even if you never distinguish the source of your character's personality traits in your writing, it could be valuable for you know the difference when you are writing.


Anonymous said...

I think there's a third source, Brenda, called "temperment." In Eastern Medicine, they make a whole science of what your temperment is, and give you different medical treatments based on different temperments.

I learned or inherited different traits from my mom and dad, but my basic temperment is probably closer to my Dad's than my Mom's.

Anonymous said...

P.S. My two cats are from the same litter, but have remarkably different temperments.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Brenda.

I've often wondered about the source of behavior patterns, since I was always the odd one out in my family despite sharing both biology and environment. I look toward reincarnation for an explanation, thinking maybe experiences in another time and place may play a role . . .

Anonymous said...


Interesting thought. During this process I got to thinking about the collective subconscious. There has to some other source for personality traits or temperments that can't be explained.

Anonymous said...

I never realized the extent to which personality traits could be inherited (versus learned) until I met my first husband's father. My ex's parents had divorced when he was very young, and his father wasn't around in his formative years, but it was uncanny how much alike they were. It's funny that I could see that with perfect clarity, but I was unable to see that the fact that his father irritated me to no end and gave me a tension headache every time I was around him didn't really bode well for the lifespan of a marriage to someone who was just like him. "There's your sign." :-)

Joyce Tremel said...

This article from the Trib today kind of ties in with your subject:

Who would have thought picky eating was inherited?

Joyce Tremel said...

The link didn't copy the way it should have. Here it is again (I hope).