Nature vs Nurture; don’t stop me now

A lecture at the home of Science in Great Britain

I want to break free from this debate because I thought I had made-up my mind some years ago, by studying the work of Eric Berne and enjoying ‘I’m OK You’re OK’ by Thomas Harris.  I was wedded to the idea that Nurture, by your key influencers throughout your formative years, made you the person you are today.  But listening to the fast talking Professor Kevin Mitchell, threw me into doubt once more.  Nature vs Nurture; Mitchell vs Berne.  I’d like to see them do the fandango.  Are you ready for this?


Helpfully Professor Mitchell started with a biology lesson.  He talked about DNA, the programme that wires our brain, excitatory and inhibitory cells, Amino acids, Peptides and protein.  This led to his hypothesis that our genetic traits drive the differences between us.  Here’s how:  Our genetic traits include IQ, BMI, EEG, brain size, sexual orientation, etc, as well as physical traits.  The combination of these traits and the way they interact at different times and in different circumstances drive our differing experiences and interpretation of these experiences.  Our experiences (Nurture) simply amplifies what is already there (Nature).  Our environment merely provides the melting pot, and then amplifies our potential to respond in a certain way, based on those genetic traits.  Get it?  Again?  Genetic variation leads to developmental variation that accounts for our different personality traits and preferences.  So, genetics underpins and in a way controls how we are influenced by people, places, situations, etc.  Simple.  So that settles it.


But can you intervene in the way you respond if you have high EQ, you reflect on your responses and are very present?  Can we fight against our predetermined, genetic predisposition?  I say yes, because I have, after training in Transactional Analysis and reading Thomas Harris’s book.  For example, once I realised why I was predisposed to be a super-playful father I was able to see how this may irritate my teenage daughter.  So I immediately apologised to Billie and started to change my behaviour.  Now I am the father I always wanted and wanted to be; a wee bit thoughtful, very supportive of her ideas and, most satisfyingly of all, a counsellor and sounding board for her own uncertainties.


So is it Nature vs Nurture?  Mitchell vs Berne?  Of course it isn’t.  It’s Nature & Nurture and all the other messy bits in between.


Kevin Mitchell is Associate Professor in the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin.  His research is aimed at understanding the role of genes in contributing to neurodevelopment including personality and personality disorders.  I have no idea if he likes Queen.

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