5208390360_1dcc37f162_zThe debate of whether nature or nurture is predominantly responsible for making each of us who we are has been around for a long time. Well, research has finally determined a clear answer here.  It is a definitive “both!”

In his book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman, tells of research conducted in 2001 by Abshalom Caspi that shows a genetic link to depression, but whether or not that person actually develops depression depends on life events such as abuse, loss of a loved one, a serious injury, and the like. It was found that a specific gene regulates the brain’s level of serotonin which, in turn, is thought to directly regulate emotion.

A person has two copies of this gene, one from each parent. So, no one can totally blame just mom or dad here.  There are three resulting possible combinations with which a person can end up, for example: short/short, long/short or long/long. Researchers discovered that the short/short combination predisposed a person to clinical depression, but ONLY IF they experience an increasing number of traumatic life events. (I think this is what happened to me.)

If people with the short/short gene combination were lucky enough to have an easy, calm life without too much trauma they were no more likely than anyone else to become depressed. However, if people were unlucky enough to have the short/short genes and ran into serious life difficulties, then they were twice as likely to become depressed as someone with the long/long combination.

In other studies, it was determined that a particular gene expression was significant in determining whether persons abused as children were likely to develop conduct disorders, become abusers, and commit violent crimes as adults.  Even if experiencing a childhood of severe mistreatment, persons with the “good” genes would not necessarily grow into adults who continued the cycle of violence.

Eagleman writes:

You inherit a genetic blueprint and are born into a world over which you have no choice throughout your formative years.  This is the reason people come to the table with quite different ways of seeing the world, dissimilar personalities, and varied capacities for decision making. These are not choices; these are the dealt hands of cards.  …[T]he machinery that makes us who we are is not simple, and science is not perched on the verge of understanding how to build minds from pieces and parts.

So, when it comes to the nature or nurture question, it is clear that neither alone is responsible for determining a person’s personality.

image credit:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/pedroklien/

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for making me aware of this cool research. I once thought it was mostly nurture. Then I took sociology, biology and genetics courses and thought it was mostly nature. Then I became a Doctor Who fan, so now I know TIME CAN BE RE-WRITTEN.

    In other words, whatever balance between the two you begin with, you can decide to change course after.
    (Dunno how long that takes. Still working on it.)

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Mikey, I like the Dr. Who approach. I do think a person is at the whim of both nature and nuture and chance until they start living consciously and decide to direct the course of their life regardless of either. When you do this, neither really matters all that much and you can rewrite time with your thinking.

  2. MAybe, I’m cynical, but the conclusions seemed to be rather obvious without the research. Mendelson, father of genetics proved the dominant/recessive correlation on behavior along time ago, but when it comes to actual expression, experience is key. There may be some individuals who are so inlcined towards depression that their perceptions of what constitutes traumatic events in their life is skewed by their genetics But then agian, conditioning can also account for these perceptiosn as well. I think it’s time we stop trying to find the cause and start dealing with the problems and teach people how to change their perceptions and how to be responsible for their own healing. We need to stop all the blame, shame, and guilt. Great info. Thanks

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Tony, I think there are still people who are staunchly on one side of the fence or the other. I am with you. The causes do not really matter. When a person takes responsibility for their life, cause becomes a moot issue. Blame, shame and guilt are not productive at all and will not change anything for the better. Teaching people the tools to do differently and heal overrides both nature and nuture and is the answer.

  3. Sheryl Lieb Reply

    Hi Debbie,
    Great article, and it certainly speaks to a lot of the twists and turns of my journey. I miss seeing you at yoga. I made a difficult decision to take some time out due to financial issues. The good news is that I have free access to the Rec Center at UNCG (not the same as Bikram), but I am doing a variety of activities which are challenging in a different way. This represents one of those twists/turns I referred to above. Hope all is going well with you.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Sheryl, thank you so much for commenting. I just thought we have been on different schedules at yoga. And, although I know I would be so resistant to change in this way, you might find that taking a break and doing something different might bring refreshing, new energy and opportunities. Stay open.

      I think the research findings above explain what happened to me. Life just happened and kept happening and kept on happening. The good news is, now, I know how the tools so that no matter what happens or what genes I have, I am good! Blessings to you!

  4. Debbie,

    I’m so happy you wrote about this. I think it’s so important to know the “deck of cards” we’ve been dealt as it empowers us to work with it more skillfully. I’m beginning to understand that the word “trauma” can mean actually quite simple misperceptions in a child’s life. And so many of us have been subject to these.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I agree, it is important to know our biological tendencies so that we may make conscious, informed decisions going forward. However, too often, this is used as an excuse by many to stay stuck.

      Your definition of trauma make so much sense to me. It does not have to be some drastic, horrific childhood. Like you said, it can just be misperceptions. Growing up, and learning about reality is shocking enough!

  5. Is a matter of mixing up the cards we have been dealt with. Which is not easy to do but it is doable. 🙂

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