Personality – Nature or Nurture

Here’s an article about a piece of research that is likely to attract many objectors. It suggests that personality is largely fixed at or close to birth and remains little changed throughout the remainder of a person’s life.

MSNBC Article

In order to make these claims, the research looks at 4 personality features and suggest that in the sample of people they analysed, these features identified in infancy were still apparent in adulthood. My feeling is that this doesn’t automatically mean that personality can’t change, or that there are not other personality traits that can be ‘acquired’ or strengthened in such a way as to provide a compensating balance for these that might be fixed.

If it does prove to be true that personality traits are largely fixed I believe this could be potentially good news in two respects;

a) It would bring an end to the whole ‘personality development’ industry which seeks to convince all that there is a given personality stereotype that is an ideal, that all should aspire to and work to be like. Instead, there would be re-evaluation that would seek to recognise the strengths for different situations in different personalities. For example, it has been fashionable to suggest that extroversion is preferable to introversion (this article even shows some bias this way). However, even as a relatively extrovert person myself, i can see merits in introversion that fail to get enough recognition.
b) If personality is seen as being more ‘fixed’ and pre-determined, this would bring greater focus on to character – something people can put effort in to in a worthwhile way, to aspire to be a more successful person and make a bigger contribution in the world. Character is predominantly determined by one’s habits. The ‘best’ habits to have can be identified in those who exhibit them, recognised and practiced until they become sufficiently internalised to become a habit.

So, whilst this might not be the final word on personality, by a long way, there is reason to hope that even the debate itself can offer positive outcomes.


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