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How Much Does Your Personality Determine Your Genes?

New research turns the table on the genes-personality equation.

Key points

  • The nature vs. nurture debate is now seen not as a “vs.” but as an interactive process.
  • New research on personality genes show how complex genomic-based networks can shape life experiences.
  • By tapping into your own self-awareness, you can take a hands-on approach to finding your life’s fulfillment.

The traditional nature vs. nurture debate in psychology frames the question of whether it’s genes or the environment that determines your personal qualities, ranging from intelligence to personality. You may engage in this debate in a playful manner with your relatives as you try to figure out whether a sibling has the same “stubbornness” as the parent or where a cousin’s high-strung qualities can be directly attributed to living with their equally neurotic parent. Such debates always view nature and/or nurture as leading to the outcome in the child’s personality.

What you might not realize is that there are approaches to understanding this complex genes-environment equation that flip things around entirely. The field of epigenetics is based on findings that certain environmental factors can alter genetic expression, both in the developing unborn child and even in fully grown adults. This interactive model could rewrite your debates in the family entirely.

Personality and Its Effects on Genes

According to a new paper by University of Granada’s Coral del Val and colleagues (2024), there are “vast and complex information-processing networks of interacting genes, proteins, and small molecules that interact collaboratively by turning one another on and off to adapt to changing external and internal conditions.” In other words, genes and the processes they control can themselves change in response to what’s going on in and around you. These processes, in turn, make it possible for you to respond in “flexible, efficient, collaborative, and open-ended” ways, leading to “unpredictable and creative expression of potential with no determined limit.”

Is your mind officially blown by this idea? Could you, rather than being stuck with the fate your personality determines for you (through genes or the environment), use that same personality to give these genetic networks a push in the right direction?

In the remainder of their paper, the authors use methods from what they describe as the “post-genomic revolution” in which epigenetics became the name of the game, to a data set based on a genetic and personality study of 459 Finnish adults. Defining personality as the way you shape and adapt to change (in yourself and your world), three systems of learning and memory make this possible, outlined here:

  • Emotional reactivity: Associative learning in which you connect experiences to emotional responses (such as an acquired fear)
  • Intentional self-control: Your ability to decide how to regulate your behavior and set goals
  • Creative self-awareness: Using knowledge about yourself to perceive how to live with others, nature, and the universe as a whole

Participants in the Finnish study completed a measure of temperament and character and provided blood samples for genetic analysis. The research team applied findings from their previous work on other samples to derive the genetic profiles associated with the three personality systems. Then they related these profiles to a variety of measures of well-being, social values, and functional connectivity within the brain, an indication of its efficiency.

In addition to supporting their basic genetic model, these earlier findings also provided insight into the development of identity, which the authors defined as continuity over time in basic interests, goals, and behaviors. The question driving the present study was whether the researchers could also identify the personality drivers of how people adapt to changing environmental conditions through their own self-regulation.

Tracking Personality’s Effects on Genetic Networks

As you can imagine, the task facing the U. Grenada team was nothing short of massive. However, they were able to draw from their previous findings to identify the 972 personality-related genes that are expressed in the same brain regions as those of interest in the present study.

The idea that your personality is expressed in so many genes probably makes sense and fits with what the authors noted, the “phenotype as complex as human personality.” You may be able to relate to this idea, too, if you’ve ever taken one of the personality tests offered through commercial DNA databases such as Your personality may be identified as an introvert or extravert, and even though you may not agree with the assessment, you can see that there is interest in mapping personality genes. The problem with those online sites is that they may not be focusing on enough, or the right, genes.

Returning to the study on the Finnish sample, these individuals were first studied more than 40 years ago when they were between 3 and 18 years old. They subsequently completed the personality/character measure on four occasions, giving the researchers data from 459 adults who were now ages 34 to 49 years; 54 percent were women.

After completing analyses of the genes, their transcription into proteins, and proteins within the personality/character networks, the authors came to what they boil down into three rather remarkable discoveries: (1) that mind and body are a unified whole, (2) that self-awareness of one’s “participation in the unity of all existence” mediates all aspects of an individual’s well-being, and (3) that RNA (the messenger from DNA to proteins) is the basis for the plasticity of behavior in which people adapt to changing circumstances.

Zeroing in on the personality-gene link, the main takeaway message is that it takes only six personality-related genes to control how individuals react to changing environments by turning each other on and off as needed. Most of the time, these act continuously, but a precipitous change in life circumstances could trigger increases or decreases in insight and judgment. Affecting this entire process, furthermore, are the impacts of insight and judgment. Personality and character alone aren’t enough to explain your adaptive abilities. You need to see those experiences as important and give meaning to your own role in the larger sphere of life. It also helps if you have resources and opportunities available to help the change process along.

How to Put Your Personality Genes to Use

You now know that your personality isn’t fated to be determined by your genes. The Finnish study findings support the idea, furthermore, that your personality can help you adapt to life’s vagaries, a process mediated by a combination of your genes and the way those genes are expressed. At the same time, your personality itself can change as a result of your impact on those life experiences.

The idea of plasticity, then, is at the heart of the U. Granada findings. You can change, you can cause change, and changes can affect you. Nothing is fixed, so if you’re not happy with the way your life is going, you can mobilize your personality resources to create the circumstances that will make your life better. The only limitations, as the authors suggest, are constraints presented by your environment. For example, chronic diseases (which clearly impact well-being) reflect, in part, your desire to adopt a healthy lifestyle, by regulating your food and activity choices.

To sum up, your personality can be viewed as a malleable entity that is shaped not only by your inherited potential or even your environment. You can find fulfillment through expression of the creative self-awareness that allows you to shape your own experiences.


Del Val, C., Díaz de la Guardia-Bolívar, E., Zwir, I., Mishra, P. P., Mesa, A., Salas, R., Poblete, G. F., de Erausquin, G., Raitoharju, E., Kähönen, M., Raitakari, O., Keltikangas-Järvinen, L., Lehtimäki, T., & Cloninger, C. R. (2024). Gene expression networks regulated by human personality. Molecular Psychiatry.

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