MadSci Network: Genetics

Re: Re: What Are Heritable Personality Traits ?

Date: Sun Dec 3 05:50:04 2006
Posted By: Amit Agarwal,
Area of science: Genetics
ID: 1163750227.Ge

Sorry Brian for the delayed response to your interesting query. Actually I
was trying myself to find such list, which gives an overview of all the
heritable personality trait. But to me it seems that they is no such list
available and neither can be made. As personality is not just genetics but
instead its an interplay between genes and environment. 

"With recent
advances in molecular biology and the use of in-depth twin studies,
scientists are beginning to reveal that not only our physical
characteristics — height, weight, hair and eye colour — but also our
personality traits involve a significant genetic component. For example,
studies suggest that thrill seeking is 59 percent heritable, happiness 80
percent heritable, and assertiveness 60 percent heritable. Our genetic
inheritance also apparently influences other behavioral attributes
including leadership, religious belief, anxiety, extroversion, alienation,
traditionalism, and career choice. Twin studies show the heritability of
most personality traits at around 50 percent.

Behavioral genetics suggests that, not only our physical, but also our
personality traits possess a genetic component over which we hold no sway.
Perhaps we should ask if we really are at the mercy of our genes to such an
extent. If most personality traits are around 50 percent heritable, then 50
percent outside influence remains — from our environment, our parents, our
peer group, and ourselves.

Recent research and practice supports this intuition. Psychologist Grazyna
Kochanska’s long-term study of pre-schoolers suggests the development of
conscience depends both on children’s natural approach to the world (which
genetic inheritance governs) and on specific parental practices. Fearful
children become conscientious if they receive gentle discipline based on
encouragement rather than coercion, while fearless children ignore gentle
discipline and only become conscientious when they share a cooperative,
loving, and secure relationship, specifically with their mother.

"We can’t change the genes, but we can change the way genes express
themselves. We can change behavior," says psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan.
Working with children and their parents, Greenspan re-routes youngsters’
genetic predispositions. He successfully prescribed gentle rocking to
soothe an acutely fearful three year-old and imaginative play to develop
the child’s assertiveness.

Molecular biologist Dean Hamer draws an important distinction between
temperament (what we’re born with) and character (what we learn). "One of
the biggest myths is that something is genetic, therefore it is fixed. And
of course this simply isn’t true," he says. "All these genes do is give us
a disposition one way or another. Whether we act on that is still very much
a matter of free will or choice."

Consider how some of us arrive in this world with a genetic predilection
for thrill-seeking. Some fear nothing and will do anything — hang-gliding,
parachuting, or bungee jumping. But no one can predict what thrill-seekers
will make of their predilection. A thrill-seeker may become a firefighter
or a drug addict. Free choice enters here. We may inherit very broad-brush
personality traits, but how we choose to mold those characteristics depends
on us."
Excerpt from the article Genes and
Predestination: The Cracked Skull by Kevin Sharpe with Rebecca Bryant. 

So by above discussion i wanted to draw your attention that, in the
current era of post human genome sequence and molecular genetics, we
scientists are obssesed to explain everthing about us by our genes.
Don't you think it is an exaggerated simplification of complex problem?
Looking at the current status of publication piles on NCBI's Pubmed on
behaviour and personality traits one can assume the day is not far when
each and every human action and behavious will have an article relatng
bunch of gene to it. I myself is try to study the genetics of Schizhoprenia
can tell you from my experience that its better to understand one
psychiatric trait or disorder and to ponder over its complexity then to
hunt for the never ending list of 'Heritable personality traits', which i
somehow feel can never exist. 
If you have some suggestions to my argument I will be very keen to hear
from you. 

Further Reading

Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland. 1998. Living with our Genes. New York:

Lawrence Wright. 1997. Twins: Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Human
Identity. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Matt Ridley. 1999. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. 

Matt Ridley. 2003.Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us

PS: I am big fan of Matt Ridley's books so if you have not tried yet,
please try reading 'Genome'. I think you will admire this piece of work.

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