Scholarly Sunday - Biology is Not Destiny

I keep thinking about a debate my science class had in 7th grade. The topic was "nature vs. nurture." And we were instructed to pick one. I can't recall which one I chose but I remember being passionate about it.

Sometime during the second semester of college, my dad asked me where I thought "personality" came from. I was taking Introductory Psychology as well as the second course in the Introduction to Biology sequence, so I should have had something remotely close to an answer of sorts. I didn't. He proceeded to tell me that he thought "personality" was created by a God or a force greater than us, unchangeable and concrete.

Tonight, whist having a conversation similar to the nature vs. nurture one, my younger sister asked me if I thought personality was plastic. After majoring in Human Development and finishing a quarter where I read 4,000 pages on child development especially current research on infancy through five years, you would think I would have an answer. But all I have are more questions.

What is personality? The definition could change the answer. If personality is temperament, then yes and no. Depending on individual differences, either from genetics or environment or the intermingling area between the two, yes, personality can change but it may not. But I don't think personality is temperament and I don't think most people mean temperament when they say personality.

Maybe it's time I take a Personality course?

I think everyone wants to believe that it is "nurture" that makes us who we are. That means that we don't have to become our parents. That means that we can take the good or bad behaviors/actions we see others doing and utilize them in our lives. (It also makes for good policy in rehabilitation.)

But I don't think it's just nurture. We are not born as blank slates. I think we come in with a whole lot of genetic predispositions to things. Just because we have predispositions, however, doesn't mean it will happen. How we untie heredity (genes and the like) from "environmental" influences, I have absolutely no idea.

I like the saying Biology is Not Destiny. It acknowledges the salience of both biology and environment. But I am quite a fan of Erikson's Epigenetic Principle that he discusses in Identity and the Life Cycle. He describes humans has having a blueprint (genetics and the like) that everything grows from.

To bring this idea down to a physical level (as behavior can be rather abstract), Celiac Disease is a great example. There are a handful of alleles that must be present for someone to have Celiac Disease. All people with CD have these alleles. But, all people with these genes don't have the Disease. My cousin's wife has CD and her daughter is positive for CD genetically, though, at the present time, she is not a Celiac. It is highly possible that one or both of my parents have the genes and that one or more of my siblings do too. Yet they are healthy. So something in the environment, combined with the genetic predisposition, causes the immune system to go haywire and attack itself. I don't think anyone knows what the triggers are, but before I started having symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes, I had a series of flus and colds. And before the symptoms of Celiac Disease appeared, I had a very strange virus that almost completely closed my throat up, necessitating the need for a steroidal treatment. (Did the shot of cortisone make a difference?)

So if you think about this with, hey, lets make it interesting, psychopaths, they probably have some biological difference than most of us normal folk. But it is possible that combining that biological difference with environmental influences creates the "pathology."

I don't know. But I certainly don't think it's a case of Nature Vs. Nurture.

And that's a rambling Scholarly Sunday, for you!

1 remarks:

Elissa said...

Well, we spent all of two weeks, if that, on Personality during Intro Psych, and that wasn't until 2/3s of the way through the term. Definitely do take a Personality course if you have a chance--it's as good a chance as psych offers I(other than a History of Psychology course) to get acquainted with the underlying theories in the field, and it's a grand compliment to developmental as personality and development are the two approaches in psychology that focus on the person as a whole.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year,