There is a lot of discussion these days (at least in my little corner of the world) about latent and learned personality characteristics.  Is personality something that is learned? Are our personalities a product of genetics and experience? Or are our genetics the mortar that cements our personalities in place, even before our birth?

We should not be so ready to accept any theory of personality as a precise, unalterable explanation of who we are or who are children are likely to become. We might first ask ourselves what benefit we get from searching for a theory of personality to explain our behavior. “My quick temper is just a personality trait I inherited.  We all act that way.  There’s nothing I can do about it;” or “According to the Myers-Briggs, I am an ISTJ.  You are an ENFP.  I thought you would be an INTJ and I would be an INFP.  Who knew?”

Like hair color, blood type, eye color and skin color, we may actually inherit some features of our personality from our ancestors.


Well our ancestors survived using a combination of skill and a number of adaptive personality characteristics.  Our forefathers/mothers were quite successful, essentially, at cooperating, congregating and copulating. Why not pass along the thing that made all that happen?  Our genetic promise just may surface as a familiar family trait.

“He’s just like his father.  They are both so private;”

“She and her mother are so analytical;”

“They both are so friendly; like their cousins;”

“He and his grandmother are like twins.  They have the very same sense of humor.”

If your family members are known for their outgoing personalities, or their penchant for being disagreeable, under a wide variety of circumstances, you and your children could inherit a predisposition for those same characteristic in the expression of your own personalities.  Of course, your ease at speaking in public or your skill at selling used cars may well be a result of simply living with people who are at ease speaking to groups or comfortable exaggerating the truth. You may have learned your behavior from your grandmother, rather than inherited it genetically from her.  As well, you may have learned the behavior, but inherited a genetic potential for learning it.

This is getting confusing.

This is what I’m getting at; I once worked with a father who believed that his daughter inherited her penchant for lying from her mother.

“People can inherit personality characteristics you know!  Her mother lied her ass off.  She lied about everything.  My ex’s mother used to lie like a rug.  It’s inherited.”

“Do you think there might be something in her environment that may be inducing your daughter to lie?”

“Well, her mother has been gone since she was two years old.  It isn’t anything I’ve done.  I raise her to tell the truth. She might be just hard-wired that way.”

“How do you want to attempt to help your daughter make better choices?”

“I guess we can’t.  It’s in her genes.  She’s just like her mother and there’s no way around that.  She’ll grow up to lie to her husband some day, too, I guess.”

It’s very hard to prove how much of personality is inherited (if it is at all) on a molecular level. (Twin studies make quite interesting reading, however.) Often, when it comes to personality development, generally, and human psychology, specifically, observation and guessing are, at times, all we have to go on.  In truth, it hardly matters where your personality comes from, be it through inheritance or experience or a combination of both. It matters more to believe that your personality is under your control and can be adjusted, changed and repaired depending on your desire to do so.  The wonder of your personality is its flexibility and adaptability to change.  Improvement in emotional intelligence depends on that being our shared understanding.


2 responses

  1. Pingback: Personality |

  2. Pingback: Think Twice: A Learner’s Guide to Improved Emotional Intelligence |

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