Genes play a greater role in forming character traits — such as self-control, decision-making or sociability — than was previously thought, new research suggests.
Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh say that genetically influenced characteristics could well be the key to how successful a person is in life. A study of more than 800 sets of twins found that genetics were more influential in shaping key traits than a person’s home environment and surroundings.
The study of twins in the U.S. — most over the age of 50 — used a series of questions to test how they perceived themselves and others. Questions included “Are you influenced by people with strong opinions?” and “Are you disappointed about your achievements in life?” The results were then measured according to the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which assesses and standardizes these characteristics.
The research team found that identical twins — whose DNA is exactly the same — were twice as likely to share traits as non-identical twins.
The researchers say the findings are significant because the stronger the genetic link, the more likely it is that these character traits are carried through a family.
Researchers found that genes affected a person’s sense of purpose, how well they get on with people, and their ability to continue learning and developing.
The genetic influence was strongest, however, on a person’s sense of self-control, according to psychologist Dr. Timothy Bates of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.
“Ever since the ancient Greeks, people have debated the nature of a good life and the nature of a virtuous life,” he said. “Why do some people seem to manage their lives, have good relationships and cooperate to achieve their goals while others do not? Previously, the role of family and the environment around the home often dominated people’s ideas about what affected psychological well-being. However, this work highlights a much more powerful influence from genetics.”
The study, which builds on previous research that found that happiness is underpinned by genes, is published online in the Journal of Personality.
Source: University of Edinburgh