People are a summation of their habits, temperaments, and experiences. However, where do these things that define us come from? Psychology has long been debating whether they stem from our genes or our environment. Settling the debate will expand our currently limited understanding of human development.
Trying to separate nature from nurture as contributing factors to our development is like trying to decide whether a plant grows more as a result of sun or water. Both are imperative to its growth, and neither is more important because there is no plant without both. The way in which we are created by our personality and environment works in a similar way. A psychologist named Albert Bandura first proposed this theory under the name “reciprocal determinism.” That term simply means that people’s genetically determined temperaments and personalities influence their behavior. Their behavior then influences their environment. This is the nature side of things. However, our environment influences our behavior too. The two are constantly interacting, which is what produces who we are. An extension of this theory is that “our genes create the environment to which they are exposed.” For example, a child born with a genetic predisposition to aggression will elicit more aggression from their parents than their easygoing sibling. This aggressive parenting reinforces the aggressive behavior in the child, thus making them more aggressive. However, if a calm parent consistently responds to their aggressive child without any aggression, they will likely be part of the environment that shapes their child to be more gentle. Whether this innately aggressive child develops into an aggressive person or not depends on how their environment responds to them. But that environment is shaped by the manifestation of a child’s genetic predispositions, be they in regards to temperament, sociality, or intelligence. This dynamism between genes and environment means that neither can be deemed more important to who we are.
Despite genes and the environment both influencing a person, the environment is more important. Consider a child raised in a tidy, organized, and punctual military family. Whether they are predisposed to a Type A or Type B personality, they will likely grow into a Type A person because of their environment. Therefore, the environment is more important in determining who we are. Consider the aggressive child in this argument. One may say that the child has its mother’s genes, and so the type of parenting they receive (i.e. environment) is genetically influenced. The child may have its mother’s genes if they are aggressive, but they could just as easily have not inherited them from her. Their mother’s level of aggression is an environmental influence on the child even if her behavior is genetically influenced. Our genes don’t influence our development much, but how our family’s genes manifest does impact us. However, the impact of our parents’ genetic predispositions is part of our environment, not our genes. Evocative gene-environment correlations erroneously imply that our genes influence our environment more than they do. As is the case with this aggressive or unaggressive mother, our environments are mainly dependent on chance.