Is Personality Inherited? Here's What Science has to Say
Is personality inherited? Do we all have some traces in us of the way our parents are or were? Will our own children develop the introversion, insecurity, or self-sufficiency that defines us? Most of us have probably asked these kinds of questions at some time or another. Particularly when it relates to our own personalities and how they’re influenced by those of our parents.
Something that we must be clear about in the first place is that personality is a multifactorial trait. In fact, it includes multiple variables, both environmental and social. For example, those relating to your experiences and, of course, the genetic factors. For this reason, the answer to the question as to whether personality is inherited is yes. You do inherit your personality, but only some traits of it.
None of us are perfect clones of either our mothers or fathers. In fact, you shape your own personality over the years. This process includes all of your accumulated experiences. Let’s find out a bit more.
“The variety of individual personalities is the world’s highest richness.”
– Julian Huxley –
Personality is inherited but there are nuances
You might feel proud that you possess the perseverance of your mother. Or, you appreciate having the openness of your father. However, faced with these kinds of characteristics, you may well ask: are these factors really “genetic” or do you simply imitate the kind of behavior you witnessed in your early years?
Indeed, when it comes to building your personality, your parents often serve as models. In other words, you integrate what you see, and you often behave in the same way as they do. In fact, that’s what children do: imitate what they see. However, there are nuances.
It’s estimated that the extent to which your personality is inherited is between 40 and 50 percent. The remaining factors involve your social environment and your accumulation of experience. The University of Minnesota conducted a study in the 90s concerning this idea. The research was carried out with separate monozygotic twins. The objective was to find out whether, in cases where twins had grown up in different environments, whether they had similarities in their personality.
The answer was yes. Not only did they share the same temperaments and personalities, but they also had similar hobbies and even extremely similar IQs. This research confirmed the fact that the genetic component is always very present in personality.
Creativity, cordiality, neuroticism… factors that can be inherited
From your parents, you inherit the color of your eyes, skin, height, and vulnerability to certain threats. In turn, we know that personality is inherited. However, we’re not really clear about which factors tend to condition this inheritance, as well as which traits are most likely to be inherited.
It seems that creativity is one of them. In addition, are the dimensions that appear in Costa and McCrae’s “Big Five”. These are extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness.
Therefore, emotional instability or the tendency to experience states such as anxiety more frequently (neuroticism) is something that we (sometimes) inherit from our parents.
Personality is inherited, but the environmental factor impacts more
We know that genetics are important. In fact, every day we learn more about this subject, about our genome and its mysteries. However, when it comes to understanding how the human personality is built, environmental variables tend to be more important than genetic ones. In other words, genes don’t determine us 100 percent, but the environment in which we grow does.
What does this signify? It means that everything that happens to you makes you unique. It implies that the place where you live, what happens to you, and how you interpret what happens to you, sculpt your personality year after year.
The University of Zagreb (Croatia) conducted a study that revealed some remarkable results. The research found that sometimes, genetic factors inherited from our parents’ personalities can intensify or weaken over time. This reminds us once again that the personality isn’t a stable and permanent entity. People evolve. This may involve them moving closer to how their parents are or were or, on the contrary, moving away from them, personality-wise.
If genetics are important, does it mean you’re born with the foundations of your personality?
We know that personality is inherited and that you show certain characteristics of your parents. However, does that mean that every baby comes into the world with a specific personality? Not really. In fact, babies show temperaments, not personalities.
These temperaments define and explain the way they react to their environment. For example, how they adapt to routines, whether they’re more or less energetic, how often they cry, how they react to stimuli, how demanding they are etc. Consequently, some children have easier temperaments (adaptable) and others react with greater anxiety, apprehension, etc.
These characteristics can later lay the foundation for personality. However, the way in which your parents raise you, help you manage your emotions, and guide you in your day-to-day life, is what will build – in part – your way of being.
Finally, although you inherit genes from your parents, you don’t inherit 100 percent of their way of being, feeling, acting, and reacting to things. Indeed, it’s your experiences and your environment that determine you the most.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Baker, C. (2004). Behavioral genetics: An introduction to how genes and environments interact through development to shape differences in mood, personality, and intelligence. [PDF] http://www.aaas.org/spp/bgenes/Intro.pdf
- Bouchard, T. J., Lykken, D. T., McGue, M., Segal, N. L., & Tellegen, A. (1990). Sources of human psychological differences: The Minnesota study of twins reared apart. Science, 250(4978), 223–228.
- Church, A. T. (2000). Culture and Personality: Toward an Integrated Cultural Trait Psychology. Journal of Personality, 68(4): pp. 651 – 703.
- Vukasović, T., & Bratko, D. (2015). Heritability of personality: A meta-analysis of behavior genetic studies. Psychological Bulletin, 141(4), 769–785. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000017