29 May 2015

"Good Character" Is A Function of Nuture

Some traits have more of a hereditary influence than others. As a parent or teacher working with children, the sensible thing to do, at least naively, is to focus your efforts on the traits that have little hereditary influence, where what you do makes the most difference.

What are these traits?

It is widely recognized that the specific religion and language that a person acquires are a product of nurture, although more generalized traits like respect for tradition, religiousity, and learning disabilities that impact language acquisition are significantly hereditary.

According to a December 2, 1986 article by Daniel Goleman of the New York Times, reporting on results from the Minnesota Twin Study:
The need to achieve, including ambition and an inclination to work hard toward goals, also was found to be genetically influenced, but more than half of this trait seemed determined by life experience. The same lower degree of hereditary influence was found for impulsiveness and its opposite, caution.

The need for personal intimacy appeared the least determined by heredity among the traits tested; about two-thirds of that tendency was found to depend on experience. People high in this trait have a strong desire for emotionally intense reltionships; those low in the trait tend to be loners who keep their troubles to themselves.

''This is one trait that can be greatly strengthened by the quality of interactions in a family,'' Dr. Lykken said. ''The more physical and emotional intimacy, the more likely this trait will be developed in children, and those children with the strongest inherited tendency will have the greatest need for social closeness as adults.''
A study in 2006 also affirmed the environmental basis of traits identified in the 1986 study such as need for personal intimacy (called "love (valuing close relationships)" and "prudence (choosing actions with care)".

A 2006 study added:
* "humor (seeing the light side of life, liking to laugh"),
* "humility/modesty (not overvaluing self)",
* "citizenship (being a good team member)",
* "integrity (presenting oneself in a genuine way)",
* "kindness (helping and taking care of others)", and
* "vitality (feeling alive and excited)"
to the list of environmentally influenced traits.

To generalize, while many aspects of personality are influenced very little by parenting and education, a group of traits that can be generally described as "good character" are not very heritable at all and have a strong nuture component.


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