Adoption Study on Personality

Instructor: Tara DeLecce

Tara has taught Psychology and has a master's degree in evolutionary psychology.

In the ongoing debate about nature versus nurture, one of the more influential type of studies is adoption studies on personality. Are adopted children more like their adoptive parents or their biological parents? This lesson reveals the answer.

Nature Versus Nurture

One of psychology's classic debates is known as nature versus nurture. Are genetics more responsible for our behavior and personality, or is the environment? This is a topic that is hard to study because it is hard to pinpoint all of the influences a person has had in his or her lifetime. Adoption studies on personality, however, have provided some way in which scientists can examine the nature versus nature debate.

Children who are raised by adoptive parents who are not their biological parents and are still more like their biological parents that they've never met would be a good example of the power of nature. If, on the other hand, adopted children grow up to be more like their adoptive parents who raised them, then that would be more support for the influence of nurture. Which tends to be the case? The following will describe the outcomes of research on the subject.

Adoption Studies on Personalities

Many researchers have examined the personalities of children who were raised by adoptive parents to see how similar their personalities are. After hundreds of such studies were conducted, the results revealed that adopted children's personalities are more like those of their biological parents whom they've never met than their adoptive parents who raised them. This effect is especially pronounced for degrees of shyness/outgoingness and agreeableness. This is strong evidence of the power of heritable psychological traits.

What perhaps is even stranger is that studies on macaque monkeys show that baby monkeys reared by foster mothers display behavior more similar to their biological mothers that they've not had contact with than their foster mothers who raised them. Therefore, the powerful effects of genetics on personality go beyond humans.

At this point, you may be wondering; does parenting even matter? The answer is a clear yes. Although personality traits such as shyness and emotional stability may be genetically based, parenting has an impact on a child's attitudes and beliefs about the world. Adopted children tend to have similar religious and political beliefs, manners, and values as their adoptive parents. Additionally, because adoptive parents are carefully screened, adoptive households tend to be more stable on average than those of biological parents. As a result, adopted children tend to be more social, self-giving, and willing to help strangers, just as their adoptive parents who raised them are.

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