Environment or Biology: Which Matters More?

When it comes to personality, or temperament, there are two major forces that can shape its development: environment or biology. From a biological perspective, different natural factors can influence an individual’s temperament. One of these factors is gender, and whether someone is male or female could potentially impact their behavior. For example, “three studies were conducted to test the hypothesis or sex differences in jealousy,” and the results of this study revealed that 60% of male undergraduate students were more jealous over a partner’s sexual infidelity while 83% of female undergraduate students more jealous over a partner’s emotional infidelity. This relates to personal experience, as there have been many instances where female friends have become quite jealous over their boyfriends’ platonic female friends. Another natural factor that influences temperament is infant behavior. From a behavioral perspective, different situations and environmental factors can influence an individual’s temperament. Perhaps the most classic example of this occurred with Pavlov’s experiment, which proved classical conditioning. During his research, Pavlov placed food powder inside the dog’s mouth and measured the amount of salivation afterward, and he soon learned that certain environmental stimuli, such as the food dish itself, caused salivation before the dog even began to eat. This demonstrates how certain environmental factors can cause individuals to behave in certain ways. A good example from personal experience involves a friend who was afraid of her alcoholic father. He would always come home late at night, and she began to associate the loud sound of the garage opening with her father coming home. One night, the garage began to creak open, and she felt the familiar sense of anxiety and dread. As it turned out, it was actually her brother who came home from college as a surprise. Her reaction to the sound of a garage door opening is a perfect example of how personality is impacted from a behavioral perspective. Personally, I believe that the environment is more influential than biology in shaping personality. Biology plays an undeniable role in some of an individuals’ development, but an individual has the potential to experience seemingly infinite environmental influences that can subsequently impact his or her personality, for better or for worse. B.F. Skinner presents a convincing case for the environment having a greater impact on personality. Skinner’s theory appears very similar to Pavlov’s. I agree with Boeree and Pavlov, as well as all the other psychologists who believe that nurture is more powerful than nature, as I have personally witnessed more instances of people’s personality changing due to circumstances, not their genetics. It can be argued that I feel this way since I can directly observe a situation causing someone’s personality to change, whereas I cannot directly observe his or her genes and brain activity. Nevertheless, within my realm of observation, I believe that the environment is the ultimate determinant of personality, not biology.