NATURE VS NURTURE : Based On Latest Studies, Role Of Genetics & Upbringing In Psychological Developments

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Exploring Role Of Genetics & Upbringing In Psychological Developments, Based On Latest Studies



Until a century back at least, role of heredity in human development of psychological traits was well acknowledged. However, in past many decades, industrial and IT revolutions have led to extremely fast changes in society. As a result, variations in income, profession, locations, & lifestyle have been huge, just in a generation. This has caused many to question the significance of Heredity or Nature in brain development, and give more emphasis to Upbringing or Education or Nurture.

Few examples given for primacy of nurture are like huge difference in success of Mukesh & Anil Ambani, many Bollywood actors or Politicians failing even though they had highly successful parents, etc. Other than that, racist theories by followers of Hitler shoots down any discussion in favor of Nature, even before the discussion starts.


Agreed, some human races being superior to others was a hasty application of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Studies and inferences  by neurogeneticist Dr. Kevin Mitchell in his book Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are however are more relevant.

Most significant is the study of identical twins(monozygotic), fraternal twins(dizygotic), siblings, and population in general. Psychological traits of individuals were IQ and Behavioral traits. Behavioral traits can be further classified as Five independent psychological traits in an individual. These are Extroversion or urge to be with people, Neuroticism or different levels of anxiety among individuals in similar situations, consciousness or level of systemic behavior by the individual, agreeableness or friendliness, and openness to new experience.

The repeatability of measurements in the study was 90% for IQ tests, and around 70% for psychological traits on an average. That is, if same individual took the similar psychological test again, his or her score was 70% same as before, on an average. The scores were most matching for identical twins, then fraternal twins or siblings, and then strangers. Further, there was no significant difference between identical twins raised in same family or in different families. Most importantly, difference between siblings where one of the person was adopted, was equivalent to difference among strangers.

Final argument for the importance of genetics in psychology is personal. I spent more than a decade to work in software domain which was not growing and not changing fast. The reason was to fix significant gaps in soft skills like verbal communication and decision making. However, even after major effort and focus, the improvements were significantly sub-optimal. I still find myself quite similar to what I was 15 years back.

The take away however is not that one should stop self-improvement through self-effort. It is to highlight that role of genetics even in self-help needs to be considered and understood.



Dr. Mitchell’s book highlights differences in male and female psychology. Prominent among these are social skills and ability to articulate emotions, the traits in which females excel, on an average. Further, to reinforce this point, we can consider implications of human brain having evolved in mostly hunter environment. [200,000 years as hunters against 10,000 years as farmers and 300 years in industry. Plus, evolution of ancestors like Homo Erectus and others over a few million years]. Human children requiring significant care after birth, and significant risks during pregnancy compared to other mammals is the key factor in the variation of male and female psychologies.

 Lack of requirement to hunt made females less aggressive on an average compared to males. Female dependency on male partner, extended family, & tribe made evolution of neural wiring with social traits more advantageous for them.

Extrapolating hunter mindset further, men are good at spatial tasks, focused work requiring deep and long-term thought, and their modern versions like mathematics and engineering. Similarly, women are better at multi-tasking in activities not requiring deep thought.

Emphasizing these differences may seem like a digression, but point here is to highlight that males and females have differences in genetic, spatial, and social adoption, which in turn impacts their psychology.




Key to successful navigation in life is person’s mind. Education plays an important role in this. Role of genetics however was further undermined by the arguments like – If criminals are not controlled by their upbringing and their choices, then why should someone be punished for crimes? (Initial arguments are in the introduction). More realistically, such arguments can be refuted when we realize that genetics is not the only factor in psychological traits, but a primary factor.

That is, I am not trying to undermine self-improvement through awareness of self, surroundings, and society. I am implying that acknowledgment of the significant role of genetics can make self-help more effective.

For e.g.  we have someone like Steve Jobs who has high score in Extroversion & Neuroticism. If we accept Freudian literature and assume that these traits come mainly through childhood experience, then they can be improved by looking at causes and reversing them through Will Power based improvements. Practically, this would mean that one should list down causes of anxiety(due to Neuroticism), and try to avoid oneself from going in situations which have caused anxiety in past. Or perhaps make a mental note not to be too anxious, before one goes into such situations.

However, if the cause is genetic, then suppressing or planning with known causes will only result in new sources turning up. Instead, better approach will be to visualize self in potentially anxious situations, and prepare techniques to minimize or eliminate responses which will have negative outcome. (Avoidance or planning for known situations which can potentially lead to a negative outcome may still be applied, but preparation through visualization should be considered primary).



Self-improvement after acknowledging primacy of genetics means that we should spend significant thought in learning from experience of father or uncles or even grandfather and his family. One of the significant challenges in life is to understand what exactly are real likes and dislikes of self, and how should one react in unfamiliar situations? If we ignore the role of genetics, then trial and error, literature, and experiences of self and people we know (like friends and colleagues) are the only sources to understand self. (We can add family members also to the list of people we know, but without considering the role of heredity, their role in understanding self I think is insufficient). However, more emphasis on learning from experiences of father & ancestors is more efficient, if we acknowledge and apply role of heredity in development of self.

In case you are wondering why am I focusing on male self-help instead of involving females also? First of all, as I mentioned psychological traits and their emphasis in females are different, on an average. Me being male, I have a better understanding of achieving goals originating and executing in male psychology. Further however, as we also saw that social traits impact female psychology and survival more; it looks like females are more capable of changing based on social situations, especially after marriage. I have seen greater diversity in the behaviors of female siblings than male siblings. Perhaps greater social impact in female psychology on an average might be the reason.



The study involving high psychological similarity among identical twins forms a key component in the foundation of this article. However, question arises, if the original genome is same in this case, why are there any differences at all among this type of siblings? The book explains this by considering life as a chain organic reaction, which begins with fetus. Starting with this first cell we have various stages of embryo, baby, toddler, child, teenager and so on. The final and intermediate products in this chain reaction depend not just on initial state(genetic blueprint of fetus that is), but also conditions in which the chain reactions happen. Conditions like temperature, pressure, concentration of different biochemicals and perhaps few more factors. Therefore, the final two babies are not exactly same even in case of identical twins. The variation of course increases for fraternal twins, normal siblings, and strangers.

The book also further minimizes the role of upbringing in family and even school. It argues that same traits which might seem like they are originating because of parents’ guidance of child, might also be rooted in genetics. Since genetics of parents, father in particular, are similar to genetics of child, son in particular; therefore, environment and practices which build child’s psychological traits in family are also significantly driven by corresponding genetic structure.

With regards to teacher’s behavior with child impacting the traits, it has been observed that teachers often treat children based on their overall behavior and temperament. Same teacher will likely respond to aggressive child differently, compared to a friendly one. And therefore, to some extent teachers’ impact is also determined by child’s genetics and genetic structure of child’s family.



Why genetics based introspection, and why introspection in general?

I think there are three types of things one needs to consider to navigate various life situations. The environment in which the navigation is happening, tools and machines available with self for it, and understanding of self. The environment can be geographical environment if one is navigating rainy day or a hot day. Tools can be umbrella, or suitable clothes, or air conditioning. Self-awareness can involve one’s capability in dealing with corresponding environment. For e.g. my native is in a cold region, and therefore it is much easier for me to navigate winters in Bangalore compared to people with natives in warmer regions.

Similarly for navigating professional situation, environment is the market in which the profession is needed. Tools can be machines like computers and cars, or intellectual tools like management and communication techniques. Self-awareness in such situations however will involve psychological traits like degree of extroversion or introversion, agreeableness or more independent evaluation, conservative or more open to new experience and so on.

Someone who can evaluate self based on heredity of family is in a better position to navigate through various life challenges. Ideology or nurture becomes more important only at a very large scale or on top of the profession. For most circumstances however, I think genetics should be given more consideration than is usual these days.

Same logic I think can be applied in personal relationships as well.



The effectiveness of evaluating psychological traits from genetics was derived from experience of our forefathers with domestication of animals. They however went overboard beyond reason with rigid caste system or feudal system or slavery. Later we might have over-corrected in past few decades with primary emphasis on nurture.

Currently with latest psychological inferences like those by Dr. Mitchell, I think we can introspect better and improve better, even if precise quantification is still not possible today, for the attributes in human mind.

Visualization and preparation of self in unfamiliar situations, managed through the lens of genetics and rational ideas, seems like a good option.




Reference to Book -

Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are


Twin Studies -


Reference to the Five Psychological Traits -


Differences between Males & Female -


Role of Development from Genetic Blueprint -


Nature of Nurture -

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