Is Personality Genetic? - DNA's Influence on Temperament

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  • 0:07 Examples & Definition
  • 2:18 Behavioral Genetics
  • 3:53 Identified Traits
  • 4:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

How do genetics impact a person's temperament and personality? This lesson will introduce the world of behavioral genetics and help you understand the role our genes play in determining who we are and how we act.

Examples and Definitions

Imagine three newborns. Newborn #1 is easygoing and quiet. Newborn #2 is very demanding and vocal. Newborn #3 is inquisitive and restless. Each already seems to have a unique personality. Why is this?

The short answer to this question is that our personalities have a genetic component. However, this doesn't mean that we are born with our personality and nothing else is involved. The genetic framework for our personalities can be manipulated by our experiences in life. As we explore the concepts in this lesson, we will begin to gain an understanding of the role that genes play in determining our personality.

There are some important things to know when considering the genetic influences on personality. First, it is important to remember that genes are not solely responsible for our personality. Personality is a complex trait. A complex trait is a trait that is influenced by many different genetic and environmental factors.

Personality traits are also polygenic. This means that multiple genes are involved in determining a trait. In other words, there is no one 'personality gene.' These two factors make the study of genetic personality traits extremely complicated. Because personality is a complex trait, most researchers recognize that the genetic portion of our personality cannot be completely separated from environmental influences.

Imagine mixing red and blue paint together to make purple. Now imagine trying to separate the red and blue again by hand. It would be impossible! Genetics and environment mix together in a similar manner. Because a large number of genes each play a small role in determining our personality, it is difficult to isolate and identify these genes. This, in turn, makes it difficult to determine how the genes interact with each other or with other genes.

Imagine a dump truck full of sand. Now imagine you are looking for 300 specific grains of sand. You aren't sure exactly what the different grains of sand will look like, but you take out your magnifying glass and start hunting anyway. This is a bit like trying to find the genes that influence our personality traits.

Behavioral Genetics

An entire field of study is dedicated to understanding the genetic components of personality. This field of study is called behavioral genetics. The goal of behavioral genetics is to discover the genes that affect our behavior. It is a slow and complex process because these genes have to be identified, the interactions that take place between these genes must be understood and environmental effects must be taken into account.

The three most common research methods in behavioral genetics are family studies, twin studies and adoption studies. Family studies involve determining whether or not a trait runs in families. If a personality trait runs in families, it may indicate that there is a genetic component to the trait because children share 50% of their genes with each parent.

Twin studies involve an analysis of any differences between identical twins and fraternal twins. Since identical twins share 100% of the same genes and fraternal twins share only 50% of the same genes, identical twins should be more alike than fraternal twins if a personality trait has a genetic component.

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