Are we genetically programmed or are we just influenced by our social surroundings and experiences? This controversy is usually overlooked, but has grown to become a heated debate. Psychologists have extensively studied personality and are split by whether our traits are determined by heredity or the environment. Although both sides have proven to have valid examples, scientists are motivated to discover the biggest contribution to individual personalities.
In a search to separate these different influences, psychologists Bouchard, Lykken, and Tellegen, composed a study to determine how much genetics actually contribute to a person’s behavior. Their famous study “Are you a natural?” is characterized by the studying of pairs of identical twins. The experimenters were able to compare two identical twins that were separated at birth and grew up in different environments. After an intense process of scales, tests, and inventories on different aspects and functions of the subjects’ lives, the results showed not only did the twins share very similar appearances, but also their personalities were also closely related.
To the psychologists’ surprise, genetic factors determine a person’s characteristics more than environmental influences. Psychologists still argue about Bouchard’s discovery because he did not account for the external influences of the twin’s environment that do in fact affect people’s behaviors.
Although this experiment has been replicated with similar results, we cannot neglect the experiences that shape who we become. We are inexplicably influenced by our parents and the people whom we affiliate ourselves with that ultimately change our behaviors. We may have been born shy, but if you hang out with generally outgoing people, you will eventually become more personable around other people whether or not you try to resist that external change. One powerful force that is controlled by our social settings is the idea of conformity.
Social norms are unwritten rules that have inexplicably dictated the way in which society behaves. Although they have no validity for existing, people adhere to these norms because an overwhelming majority of their peers follow them. Therefore, to avoid the disapproval and incongruity in society, people will conform in order to obtain “normalcy”.
Solomon Asch was one of the first psychologists to create a formal study to observe and understand the phenomenon of conformity. Based on group consensus, people will willingly abandon their answers or choices in order to fit in with the rest. Manipulated by the pressures of being wrong, seventy-five percent of the participants agreed at least once with group consensus despite their knowledge that what they were saying was in reality wrong. The people that changed their answer may generally be independent, but when it comes to being in front of a group, our personality is sometimes hindered by the desire to fit in “with the norm”.
Although this is constantly debated and challenged by new experiments, there will never be any true answer. So many extreme forces drive our personality that it is safe to say that it is influenced by both genetics and the environment.
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