The environment and genes:
Research has now clearly demonstrated that our genes and, therefore, their effects on our personality and behaviour, can be influenced according to the environment in which we grow up. In fact, our experiences in early life can interact with specific genes and determine whether or not they become active (i.e. whether they GET SWITCHED ON or SWITCHED OFF).
If we are unfortunate enough to suffer severe trauma and chronic stress throughout our early lives then the way in which our genes express themselves (i.e. the way in which they affect our personality and behaviour) can be changed very much for the worse.
What’s more, these adverse genetic changes may then be passed on to the next generation, if we choose to have children of our own.
The evidence for the above comes from two main sources :
– longitudinal studies involving humans (i.e. monitoring families over generations)
– animal studies
One major animal study was conducted by Saavedra-Rodriguez et al. The study involved normal male rats which were exposed to chronic stress.
Later, these (now highly stressed) rats were mated with normal female rats.
It was found that the resultant off-spring themselves exhibited abnormally stressed and anxious behaviour. Furthermore, their off-spring displayed abnormally stressed and anxious behaviour.
It follows from the above that if we have an anxious personality type it is possible that this is a result of our father himself having had a chronically stressful childhood that adversely affected his genetic make-up which he then passed on to us.
Also, if we, too, choose to have children, there is a risk that we might pass on these adversely affected, stress-inducing genes to our own off-spring.
And it logically follows from this that it is not inconceivable that, if we ourselves have an anxious personality type, this may be a result of our grandfather having had a stressful and traumatic childhood!
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).