Personality – is it nature or nurture?


When I was in High School, I wanted to grow up to be a writer.  I had a master plan.  I would go to college, get a journalism degree and then I would live in New York City, have a cat in a small apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and I would write.  I would write poetry, stories, plays, a great novel and I would be noticed for my writing, but not go out to promote.  I would be the next Harper Lee type – great book, but no one saw her on any talk shows.

I have been described as “painfully shy.”  I am not really, I am an introvert.  Being shy and being an introvert are different.   I can be overly sensitive.  I can be both very emotional and very logical – not always as the same time.  I enjoy quite nights at home with my family and my dogs.  I would rather not go to big parties or gatherings, but I love a small group of close friends to go to dinner with or to have a game night.

I have been wondering lately how personality forms.  There is the great debate in all of adopted-dom of NATURE vs NURTURE (insert a clap of lightning here).

I like to think that for me, now as an adult, that I have a mix of both my biology and my upbringing.  As is the case for some adopted people, but for others, they never felt like they “fit” in their adopted family.   Growing up, I had times of not fitting. I describe those times as being the “square peg in a round family.”  I just was different.

I have spent a lot of time reading studies and what I have learned is that we adopted folks are more NATURE than NURTURE.

Adopted children before the age of 5 have cognitive skills that correlate more with those in their adoptive families.  As they mature, however, the adoptees’ cognitive skills, including verbal ability, became more like those of their biological parents.  Many researchers have concluded that “environmental transmission from parent to offspring has little effect on later cognitive ability.”

To quote a psychologist I work with, “you can fake stupid, but you can’t fake smart.”

Science writer Matt Ridley explains in The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture:

The environment acts as a multiplier of small genetic differences, pushing athletic children toward the sports that reward them and pushing bright children toward the books that reward them.

My growing up environment pushed by nurture toward books, but my nature pushed me toward outdoors and sports.  I loved to play softball and volleyball, I truly enjoy being outside – trees, ocean, mountains – they called me, and continue to call me.  My growing up home was full of learning and books and animals.  Looking back, it gave me a foundation to have my head in the clouds and my feet firmly planted on the beach.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I am interested in the personality of my clients.  I really like the    Myers Brings Personality Instrument  and  I use it often in my practice. When I first took and scored my test, I found that I was an INFJ.  What did this mean?  My personality type explained so much to me and it helped make sense of my feelings of,  “I was just different.”

INFJ stands for (I) Introverted, (N) Intuition, (F) Feeling, and (J) Judging.


What this all means is that I prefer to live inside my inner world of thoughts, feelings and ideas, and at times, I find it draining to be out in the world.  I only need a few close people in my life and I often will retreat to be alone.

I am still meeting my biological people and getting to know them.  I have met some that are VERY much like me and others that are similar, but different.  The most amazing thing is – every single one of my biological family has dogs and loves them.   That, dear readers, is Nature and Nurture existing in concert with each other, and it is delightful.

Janet and David with the dogs Christmas 1967
This is my adopted brother, David and me with Boo Boo, Sammy, Benji and Julie. These are the dogs of my earliest memories.



4 thoughts on “Personality – is it nature or nurture?

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  1. Awwww… I have animal lovers on all sides of my family. Animals are just kids w fur. Life is not life without furry beings to share it with.

    My bio family members on both b-mother’s and b-father’s sides are horrible at math but love history. My b-mother’s side and I are all book readers and like both artsy and “geeky” things. My birth sisters and even cousins plus our spouses could all be the backup cast for Big Bang Theory! LOL My adoptive family is artsy too.
    A-family is super-talented in math and business deals. They are all go-getters and very assertive. I am not and neither are my bio relatives unless it’s a matter of standing up for other family and best friends. My birth father’s side likes sports. Sports,both college and pro is like religion for them, but it’s also been a way to keep kids out of trouble. I’m lame at sports. I think though, had I been raised by people who were either talented or interested in sports, that would have been different.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a mother who lost a child to adoption and an activist in adoption reform since 1980, I too have a fascination with this topic. Five things I have found very important in explaining this phenomenon – or for some – conundrum:

    1. Anyone who has ever spent any time at all in a newborn nursery, KNOWS – without a shadow of doubt – that each and every neonate is born with a TEMPERAMENT which is likely the basis of thei® personality. Some newborns are very mellow and some are restless. Some barely whimper and others SCREAM!! In fact, studies have looked at unborn babies in utero and see differences such as that some self-sooth by thumb sucking.

    2. Read The Minnesota Twin Study by Dr. Buchard. It’s eye-opening fascinating with the uncanny similarities between identical twins separated at birth and raised in totally different environments. This is the definitive word on nature versus nurture. Male twins often married women with the same names and named their children the same name. Ther was a very high correlation in profession, which is something most parents THINK they can persuade or encourage.

    3. Some brilliant mind once described the nature debate this way (paraphrasing): We are born a pound of clay. Our experiences can mold that clay into different shapes, but in the end, we are still a pound of clay.

    4. As for faking stupid, that’s true. It has also been proven that environment can only change one’s IQ a very very minimal amount.

    5. Read Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier and studies of epigenetics to know that one’s very first environment – the womb in which one is formed plays a role in who we are.

    Mirah Riben

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The similarities of interests and physical actions and choices (snapping fingers, walk, sense of irony, clothing style) that my daughter displayed were so close to me you would never have thought I did not raise her. And the same thing is true of my two artistic, literate, brainy granddaughters–even though one is not speaking to me!


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