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The Science

The Harvard professor of Psychology Steven Pinker in his book “How the mind works”, cites that dozens of studies have been carried out which conclude that about fifty per cent of personality variation has genetic causes. He goes on to say that only about five per cent of our personality is due to the household we are brought up in, and the other forty five per cent is not known for sure but could be down to events that happen inside the womb when the brain is growing, the unique events that happen to us during our lives, how we handle sibling rivalry, and how we compete with our peer groups.

If this is true that only five per cent of our personality is due to our home life and parenting then can a parent/s be blamed for the way their children turn out whether good or bad, the law certainly will point the finger of blame at the parent/s for example if our children do not attend school it is the parent/s who are held accountable, and how often do we hear the phrase when a child misbehaves “well I blame the parent/s”.

Steven Pinker does concede that all children need parents that love and protect them and guide them in the right way, and that we may have a genetic blueprint but we all have unique experiences in our lives which shape how and when these genes become activated.

I am not sure that any of the current scientific/psychological evidence say’s that the our brains are a blank slate waiting to be written on by our experiences, or that we are genetically predetermined to act or behave in a certain way which is unchangeable but that it is a combination of the two that shape who we become, it is not so much about nature against nurture but how they interact with each other.

We do not have to understand the science involved to appreciate that our life experiences can alter the people we become, anyone who has been through a traumatic experience will know that it can alter the way we behave and see the world around us, for example if as a young child you were bitten by a dog chances are that your attitude towards dogs will be altered and you may develop a fear of dogs. It has also recently been shown in a study led by Eamon McCrory of University College London, that children who had been exposed to physical abuse or domestic violence when shown pictures of angry faces when in a brain scanner showed heightened activity in two particular areas of the brain, which is also seen in soldiers who have witnessed violent combat situations.

The conclusion is that both have become adapted to become very aware of danger in their environment, and their experiences have actually altered the brain and may permanently change a person’s ability to deal with stress (a similar study is the perfect example of how a gene in this case NRC31which is thought to help us handle stress can be affected by life experience, the study was led by researchers at McGill University a summary of this research can be seen at www.psychcentral.com. Childhood maltreatment is known to be a major risk factor in developing mental health problems in later life such as depression and anxiety disorders.

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