When we talk about the past we have various associations with it. For some of us it is so painful we would rather forget it. For others, there are many moments of happiness and sadness which we know has developed our behaviors and influences. Though how much has the past changed us? What does genetics play in the big scheme of things? Are we in control of our own choices? And are we simply controlled by our experiences? Well, these are all very important questions.
To begin answering the above we should start off with genetics. This is an important question for the following reason. If a person has a predisposition (due to genetics) regarding addictive behavior, does this mean that the person was destined to be addicted to a substance or behavior? Or is it their experiences which dictate who they are? And furthermore, does this mean that a murderer could blame their genes for the things they have done?
Briefly, it is worth noting some basic facts. Firstly, genes are passed down to us from our parents. Secondly, there are roughly 20,000 to 25,000 genomes (genes) in the body. Science did believe that there were much more than this though recent developments in modern technology have adjusted the results.
An interesting fact: Genes are hard to track because a personality trait is not specific to just 1 gene. Genes are polygenic, which means that a behavior or trait may be conducted by many different genes. This is why it is hard for scientists to manipulate or track specific traits.
Now that the basics are done let’s get into the cool stuff. The question regarding personality in genes vs environment is often referenced to as ‘nature v’s nurture. And of cause, because it is so hard to define how each influences an individual, the topic is often up for debate. So how much do genes define our character and how much of our behavior comes from our environment?
It has been found that violence can be linked to genes as can our music preference and laziness. Our attractions can also be based on the MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) gene. Yet it doesn’t stop there. It is even stated that our driving skills are defined by our genes. Well, kinda…
It’s not so much that we have a specific gene for driving, but rather that our genes are based on focus and coordination. It is the same with those that seek extreme sports. The thrill and adrenaline is what is part of the addiction.
So if all this is true then genes must dictate who we become, right? Wrong. Let’s now look at the environment.
When we talk about environment there are unlimited factors, especially with children. The language, the house, the weather, the parents, the breast feeding, the illnesses, the interaction with other adults and children, culture, the dog, the cat, the regular coffee shop, a person’s perfume, plus, every single moment within every single day. That’s right, a child is a sponge of information, and although it is not being stored in the conscious part of the brain till after the age of three, the subconscious is working on overload.
After the age of three we still keep being manipulated by our environment. In fact, it never stops. And it is the experiences that we have throughout our life, which either reinforce our genes or take us down a different path all together.
Basically, our genes are not strong enough to overwrite our environment. If our environment is a positive one, and we (through luck and conditioning) are a calm, positive person who does not believe in harming others, then it doesn’t matter that we have the genes that are known as being a part of violence. On the flip side though, if an individual does become a violent person, and they do have the genes which lead to violence, then the genes would have aided them in this direction. They won’t keep the person there; they are not what brought the person there, though they did help the person along the way to violent tendencies.
To conclude, as part of the Darwinian theory, things that aid or shape our evolution are passed down through the gene pool. That’s right! The same influences that affected Mozart are also within your-self. This being said, our environment shapes which genes we access the most, and what role they play in our lives. So even though we may have the lazy gene, it is our environment that encourages that gene to be more dormant or dominant in our psychology. For this reason we can’t use genes as an excuse for not doing our chores. So do the darn dishes!!!
To finalise, epigenetics is very similar to what I described above. It takes both factors and accepts that neither is dominant but both work together. It even takes things further by stating (after tests were done on some loving rats) that genes change with every generation. I have attached an easy to understand video if you would like to know more about this…
Now that we have discussed how much our genes and environment have affected us, what does that say about choice? Do we make our own choices or is everything predetermined? We will visit this in the next chapter called ‘Do we have free will?’