Personality: Nature vs Nurture on Temperament

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How is personality determined? Is personality nature vs. nurture or something more complicated?

For personality, nature vs. nurture can help explain some of where our temperament comes from. There are some studies that show biological roots to personality, but people are also able to adapt to their environments.

Keep reading for more about personality, nature vs. nurture, and how temperament is determined.

Personality: Nature vs Nurture

Other studies of personality also support the premise that introversion and extroversion are biologically based. But the temperament you were born doesn’t necessarily dictate what you do in every situation. Nurture and environment also play a role in shaping personality. Nature vs. nurture isn’t as straightforward.

According to one theory, people with certain inherited traits tend to seek out experiences that reinforce them. Children who are low reactive may seek out exciting, even dangerous experiences, building up a tolerance for risk over time. Chuck Yeager could become an astronaut because of his years of courting danger as a test pilot. Conversely, high-reactive children who are internally focused may become professors, scientists, writers, and artists, whose work involves more mental stimulation than external activity.

Yet environment still can affect temperament. Low-reactive, extroverted kids raised in nurturing environments can grow up to become high achievers like Oprah or Richard Branson. But some psychologists believe a low-reactive child raised by negligent parents or raised in a bad neighborhood could channel a bold temperament into bullying or delinquency.

High-reactive kids are also influenced by their environment. Science writer David Dobbs explained the effect of environment on children with what he called the “orchid hypothesis.” Many children are like dandelions, able to flourish anywhere. However, others such as high-reactives are like the more sensitive orchids—they wilt easily, but with proper care become something extraordinary.

Such children are strongly affected by their experiences, whether positive or negative. For instance, they’re more likely to react to marital tension or abuse with anxiety and depression. However, in a nurturing environment, they develop more social skills and have fewer emotional problems than low-reactive children. They’re conscientious and caring, disturbed by injustice and cruelty. While they don’t seek attention, they’re often highly successful at things that interest them.

Personality: Nature vs Nurture on Temperament

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  • How society overvalues extroverts
  • Why introverts' overlooked strengths are the key to greater success in work, school, and society
  • How extroversion caused the fall of Enron

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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