30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Nature via nurture
Ways We Differ
Are we born with a fixed set of traits and dispositions, or are we more like a lump of sculpting clay, moulded by the hands of life? This of course is the classic nature/nurture debate, which in modern scientific parlance has become a question of the relative contribution of genes versus the environment. Today it’s recognized that humans are shaped both by their genetic inheritance and by their life’s experiences, often in an interactive fashion. A great example of how genes and the environment can combine to produce a given outcome was provided by a decades-long study of thousands of people in New Zealand. During this study people were tested for the presence of a less active version of a certain gene, MAOA (which is indirectly involved with the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, that control mood and aggression). In those people who had had a non-abusive upbringing, the presence of the less active MAOA gene made no difference to the likelihood of that person having an aggressive personality in adulthood. However, for participants who’d suffered maltreatment in childhood, having the less active MAOA gene made them particularly vulnerable to developing an antisocial personality. This isn’t nature versus nurture, it’s nature via nurture.
It’s not nature or nurture that shapes the person we become, it’s both, each interacting with and influencing the other.
In a further demonstration of how nature and nurture interact, cutting-edge bioscience is starting to reveal how certain experiences can alter the functioning of genes, even without changing the DNA sequence itself (an individual’s unique set of genes). Known as epigenetics, it’s been demonstrated, for example, that rats raised by a doting mother are less susceptible to stress because the extra preening changes the functioning of genes involved in communication between brain cells.
THE BIG FIVE
FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR
Mary hoped that her daughter Susan would become an airline pilot. Playing aeroplane might help, but Susan’s career choices will also depend on her genes.