Each person is unique and a person of worth under his/her own right. This statement defines who a person is, one s endowed with the faculties to exist and be a contributing member of society. However, how a person develops certain characteristics and traits have aroused the curiosity of the scientific and academic community. Even parents want to know how personalities are developed so they would be able to rear their children in the proper way and become adults who have a well rounded personality.
The questions remains, how do people develop their personalities and what factors influence it. Although some people believe that personalities are influenced by nurture while others believe that personalities are influenced by nature, but it is a combination of both nature and nurture that shape our personalities. The nature-nurture controversy has led to the different perspectives on how an individual’s personality develops.
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The nature perspective says that a person comes into this world with a certain traits and characteristics which make him/her predisposed to behave and think in a certain way. The nature perspective is largely biological and genetic; wherein it is thought that personality is often passed from parents to offspring and that a child may inherit the traits of the parents (Carlson & Buskist, 1997) just as they inherit their father’s eyes or their mother’s skin. Moreover, the biological perspective has said that a child is already born with certain personality traits that are enduring and stable over time.
If a child has a difficult temperament as a baby, it can be expected that as an adult, that child would still be moody and temperamental. Finally, the nature perspective says that personality types are based on the gene pool of the individual, they say that aggression or predisposition to violence is genetically based, some people are just born to have the violent gene and that there is nothing that can be done to change this (Friedman & Schustack, 2006). The nature perspective may seem to be deterministic and narrow, once a person is said to be shy or timid, then that person will always be shy until the end of his/her life.
The nurture perspective was borne out of the reaction and revolt against the nature perspective, the proponents of the nurture perspective found the biological view close and incomplete, it was not able to account for the concept of choice and free will and that each person has the capacity to change and become better persons. The nurture perspective advocated that individuals are fundamentally good and that each person can be trained and influenced to be a better person or have positive personality traits (Friedman & Schustack, 2006).
Therefore, a person may come from a family of criminals or psychotics but with the right nurturing environment and love and care the child can grow up to become morally upright and compassionate. The nurture perspective places greater importance to the quality of care and the kind of environment that a child receives during his/her early years can affect the child’s personality and will form his/her characteristics and traits.
The nurture perspective does not allow for any biological influence, in fact John B. Watson in his famous declaration has been known to say that he can train children to become whatever he desires them to be (Friedman & Schustack, 2006). The nurture perspective is more positive as compared to the nature perspective when it comes to personality change. The perspective holds that each person with the right support and guidance will be able to change his/her personality traits for the better.
As the nature-nurture debate wore on, scientists and philosophers were finding evidence that suggested that personality development is not solely nature nor nurture, but a combination of both perspectives. Relying on the nature perspective alone does not present a complete picture of how personality is developed. They say that personality traits are not observable and one cannot identify which gene carries what trait therefore the perspective lacked credence as traits are not adequately labeled. At the same time, saying that the environment alone is the sole influence that affects personality development is wrong. There is always the continued interplay between nature and nurture and in reality; personality is molded by the combination of these two conflicting views.
Personality traits and characteristics are developed and molded by both nature and nurture factors wherein the individual finds him/her self. It is true that one’s biological traits affect the individual and can be used as basis to predict the behavior of the child in the future as well as what kind of personality he/she will have. Personality traits that are expressed through emotions have been found to be affected by the endorphins and the hormones that a person has (Carlson & Buskist, 1997).
For example, men and women differ in their personalities because women have more estrogen which activates the body into being more emotional and easily affected by feelings and situations while men who have a very low estrogen levels are hardier, more composed and calm than women.
The physiology of the human brain also influence the personality of the individual (Carlson & Buskist, 1997), those who have a more developed language area are more vocal, more able to express their emotions while those who have more developed logical area are more rational. Moreover, intelligence which is a key ingredient of a person’s personality is also genetically based, those who are highly intelligent will be more critical, more resilient and more introverted while those who are more socially adept will tend to be extroverted.
The influence of the environment over the personality of the individual has been demonstrated by the number of cases of wherein the child has been brought up in a positive environment despite being borne in a dysfunctional family grew up to be straight and proper. In the earliest experiments of human contact which tackles the issue of nurture it was found that monkeys reared alone and without a nurturing mother was cold, lifeless and unable to relate with other monkeys.
On the other hand, a monkey which was reared together with a mechanical monkey displayed more positive behaviors than the first monkey (Westen, 2003). This showed that a nurturing environment is important for the developing child, in a similar light; it was found that those children who were exposed to aggression also imitated the aggressive behavior that was shown to them (Huesmann, Moise-Titus, Podolski & Eron, 2003). These underscores the double edged sword that nurture is because a positive environment may lead to positive outcomes while a negative environment may also be a threat to the development of the child.
However, taking both of the perspectives explains far more completely how personality is developed and formed. A child’s genetic make-up provides for the predispositions that a child has, while the kind of environment that he/she grows up in will also form part of his/her personality. Personality tests have often found that personality traits are stable and enduring (Westen, 2003), a child may be stubborn in his/her younger age may mellow down and with the societal influences and an environment that promotes respect and obedience may tame the stubbornness, but in the end, his/her stubbornness may prevail when placed in a difficult situation or when she has to cope with a certain issue or problem.
Moreover, a child may be overly active and vocal since childhood but through experience and social forces may transform the child into an adult who excels in sports or who are activists and leaders. This is also true for the other side of personality, the evil and dark side. Some children are evil and these can be observed in their behavior towards other children or other creatures, and sometimes they grow up to be criminals and sociopaths (Westen, 2003). In a same vein, children who have experienced abuse and traumatic events tend to develop personality disorders that affect their quality of life and relationships.
Lastly, it has been reported that injuries to the brain have often resulted to a change in personality (Westen, 2003) and these had adverse effects to the individual and his/her family. The person’s behavior becomes erratic; he/she may have mood swings or may even portray a personality that is completely uncharacteristic of him/her.
Without a doubt, personality is shaped by one’s biological predispositions and environment, each one of us have heard a small voice inside of us that shares our thoughts and feelings, while the most important persons in our lives have influenced and inspired us to dream and fulfill our ambitions in life. In the past the nature versus nurture debate was intensely championed by both sides, but at present it has been realized that acknowledging both the nature and nurture aspect of one’s development and personality provides a more complete and accurate picture of human nature.
Carlson N. & Buskist W. (1997). Psychology: The Science of Behavior 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and
Friedman, H. & Schustack, M. (2006). Personality: Classic theories and modern
Research 3rd ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Huesmann, L., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C. & Eron, L. (2003). Longitudinal relations
between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.
Westen, D. (2003). Psychology: Brain, Behavior, and Culture. New York: Wiley & Sons.