What Makes You You?

Anna Hackett What Makes You You? The Nature Nurture Debate

The mind is a mysterious entity that so many have tried to decipher. Why are some people so outgoing while other people are so shy? Why are some siblings’ mannerisms the same, while others’ couldn’t be more different? There has been a lot of exploration as to what makes us the way we are and the main question is are we destined to have a certain personality or do our experiences mold us to be the people we are? In truth, there is still a lot of debate on the subject as proof has been found to sway scientists one way or the other, but there is one trend that seems to be widely agreed upon: our childhood is integral to our personality. Let’s start with an interesting relationship between childhood and genetics. You may have heard of the “serial killer gene” study. In this study, a man named Jim Fallon discovered through scanning unknown groups of families’ brains that his family seemed to all have brains matching that of a psychopath. A psychopath is someone who has a disconnection with feeling emotions or having a conscious. They often have an inactive orbital cortex, which works closely with the amygdala, a section of the brain involved in fear, aggression, and emotion. Fallon found that there are actually two genes that can be passed down that make someone more likely to show aggression and violence that are common in serial killers. One is a version of the MAO-A gene that produces less monoamine oxidase-A enzyme, which results in irregular metabolizing of dopamine. The other gene is CDH13, which is involved in connecting neurons. The main point, though, is that even though his whole family had these genes, most of them weren’t serial killers (though some of his ancestors were discovered to have murderous pasts). This proves that genes don’t necessarily mean someone’s personality will be one way or the other, but they can play a role. What was found to be the main trigger for whether these genes were a factor or not was whether or not the person had a traumatic childhood. In the event of a happy, nurtured childhood, these genes would never pose a problem, with a less fortunate one though, things become bleaker. Now, there are still some who believe this is nonsense and genes play no role. Other scientists believe that our first six years of life can determine how we act later in life. The notion that we have one personality is being stepped away from and being replaced with the idea that people have multiple personalities depending on the situation they are in and these roles we take are dependent on how responsive parents are, what your position in the family is, and the narrative your parents had for you based on their own childhoods. Again, the quality of your childhood is not an end all be all, simply a starting point that can potentially be changed later in life. An interesting point that has been discussed, though, is what our society would be like if people stopped assuming their children are genetically wired to be a certain way and started owning up to the idea that they have an immense role in the character of their child. So, where do you stand on this debate? Do you agree with the notion that our genes are more likely to drive us towards a certain personality? Do you think a person’s experience will have a greater affect on how they act? It’s a complicated phenomenon, one we may not fully understand for a very long time, but it’s pretty amazing to have at least come this far in uncoding it. References: Ashley, Sarah. “Do You Have the Serial Killer Gene?” Modern Notion, 2 Oct. 2015, modernnotion.com/do-you-have-the-serial-killer-gene/. Smallman, Etan. “What Gives Us Our Personality? Nature Takes on Nurture.” Metro, 30 May 2015, metro.co.uk/2014/03/03/what-gives-us-our-personality-nature-takes-on-nurture-4342057/.

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