Nature vs Nurture?


“He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.”  — Raymond Hull

Is your personality nature or nurture?  Studies consistently show 45 to 50 percent is nature.  The surprise though is that the other 50 percent is not nurture.  It’s not your birth order.  It’s not whether you were in day care.  Most surprisingly, 0 percent of the remaining 50 to 55 percent is  determined by how your parents raised you.

Don’t worry, you can still blame your parents for lots of specific aspects of your behavior, but you can’t blame them for your personality.  What is it then that really shapes your personality?  Your peers and chance.  This is nature’s strategy for helping you win.

In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about the research and conclusions in the roles of nature and nurture in shaping your personality.

Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:

  • Nature is half of your personality.  45 to 50 percent of your personality is nature.
  • Peers and chance shape the other half.  The other 50 to 55 percent of your personality is your peers and chance.  Who you spend your time with matters.   Your younger years shape your older years from a personality standpoint.
  • It’s not your parents or your birth order.  Your parents shape your behaviors, not your personality.  Birth order does not determine your personality.
  • Specialization is nature’s strategy for winning. Find your natural advantage, then seek out unoccupied niches. It’s a reminder to be YOUR best. .

50 Percent of Your Personality is “Nature”
50 percent of your personality is your genes.  Buckingham writes:

“… we can now finally lay to rest the age-old question about which has more influence on who you are: nature or nurture.  In every study of its kind, the results are always the same: 45 to 50 percent of your personality is nature.  …That is to say 45 to 50 percent of your personality is due to the genes that you inherited from your mother and your father.”

The Remaining 50 Percent is Not How Your Parents Raised You
The other 50 percent is not nurture by your parents.  We used to think it is, but the research says otherwise.  Buckingham writes:

“And what of the remaining 50 to 55 percent?  Well, we used to think that this remainder was due to nurture – how you were weaned, potty trained, disciplined, praised, whether you were in day care or not, where you were in the birth order of your siblings, and so on.  We know this isn’t true.  How you were raised has absolutely no impact on your personality at all.  Just to be clear, 0 percent of the remaining 50 to 55 percent is determined by how your parents raised you.  (Judith Rich Harris’s book No Two Alike provides an incisive description of these studies and their challenging implications.)”

Your Parents Shape Your Values and Your Behavior, Not Your Personality 
You can’t blame your parents for your personality.  Your parents do play an important role in shaping your values and specific aspects of your behavior, just not your personality.  Buckingham writes:

“But as long as their behavior falls within the bounds of normal parenting (if there was abuse or repeated trauma in your childhood, these obviously leave their scars), how your parents weaned you or disciplined you or praised you does not affect your personality at all.  And by personality, I mean it will not affect how competitive you are, or how timid, or how patient, or how outgoing, or how self-assured, or how willful, or how creative, or how focused, or how responsible, or how calm, or how positive, or any other train that might apply to you.  Again, to be clear, this doesn’t imply that parents don’t matter.  It simply means that which family you were brought up in has no measurable impact on your personality.”

You Can’t Blame Your Birth Order for Your Personality
Birth order has no impact on your personality.  It’s just a myth.  Buckingham writes:

“And neither, contrary to recent books on the subject, does birth order.  Parents think it does because they are very familiar with their children’s behavior inside the home and consequently witness many examples of how elder siblings react to the younger ones, and how each child is subtly different from the others.  Because parents are also acutely aware of the birth order of their children, they then draw conclusions that link a child’s behavior to his birth order.”

Your Peers and Chance Determine the Remaining 50 Percent
You can blame your peers and chance for the remaining part of your personality.  Lady luck or a series of unfortunate events can play a role in your personality.  It’s not about peer pressure.  That’s only temporary.  Instead, your peers are the most reliable information about you. Buckingham writes:

“So if it’s not parenting, and it’s not birth order, what does affect the remaining 50 to 55 percent of your personality?  An overwhelming body of research suggest that two forces are at play (again, I’ll refer you to Judith Rich Harris’s book if you want to dive into the data itself).  … Chance, which can mean pretty much anything, from your bad luck in suffering repeated ear infections as  a child, to the random variations in your genes as you grow.  (These small variations explain why we sometimes see one identical twin with a cleft palate, while the other, although genetically identical, does not have one, or why it’s possible for one to be a schizophrenic, and not the other.) …Your peers will tell you accurately (far more accurately than your family will) if and who you can dominate, if you’re funny, if and when you’re a good ally, if your ideas are interesting, if your ideas are practical, if you are trustworthy, and so on.”

My Related Posts

Photo by Harlequeen


  1. I have to say, this is creating some cognitive dissonance for me as well. It’s just so, well, unexpected.

    I guess I need to call up my best friend and thank her. Apparently we’ve been molding each other since kindergarten!

    It’s kind of disappointing as an adult to think my personality is largely done being shaped, but I guess I kind of assumed that anyway. I wasn’t planning on switching into a wildly overemotional basket case anytime soon, but the option was intriguing. 🙂

  2. @Vered – What’s cool is now you can pin the rap on your kid’s friends and you’ve got the data to back you up.

    @Sara – I like options too. On the other hand, it’s good to know we have a durable core. When you really think about it, it does make sense to make the most of what you’ve got over change to something you’re not. When I rode my streetbike off-road, I made it work, but it wasn’t happy.

  3. I’m always skeptical of this type of research and how exactly they reached the conclusions they did JD. I find it kind of difficult to believe the nurture v nature debate has been wrapped up so easily.

  4. @Cath – being skeptical is good. I think the key is testing and being your own best judge. The real question is where you gain more from — trying to change into something else, or leveraging what you’ve got. I know the answer is an AND, but that’s where I think the research helps us make smarter bets. The willow bends while the mighty oak breaks in the wind.

  5. Hi J.D. – The part of this post I found interesting was about nature – “It wants you both to seek out your strengths and then to strengthen these strengths.” Might that explains why we often want to better ourselves?

  6. @Barbara – I think it’s a piece of the puzzle. It might be as simple as pain and pleasure. Feeling pleasure from what you’re strong at, and pain from what you’re not. I’ve found that some people are more about getting out of pain, while others are more about moving towards pleasure. I think this is potentially linked to “learned helplessness.” I find learned helplessness shuts people down from pursuiting pleasure and instead, avoiding pain. I think focus is also governed by where you are in Maslow’s hiearchy (below the line or above the line … or surviving vs. thriving.)

  7. You can’t place an exact percentage on what makes up a personality. It’s a nature vs. nurture debate that has been going on for centuries and you can’t just assume exactly 45% is because of nature. Where is the facts and research backing this article up?

  8. @ Hailey — You can short through his research in his book. Marcus shares his sources. I agree and I wouldn’t get hung up on the numbers or you’d miss the point. The meta-point is that you can leverage your natural thinking, feeling, and doing patterns, while shaping them through habits, practice, and conditioning.

  9. Absolutely continuing to be proven to be wrong. The environment impacts the chemistry of the brain, especially in infants. Pay attention.

  10. @ Catherine — What specifically is continuing to be proven to be wrong?

    BTW — Marcus already pointed out that the environment impacts the chemistry of the brain, especially our younger years, in his book.

Comments are closed.