We're shocked! The Max Planck Society has just discovered that our behaviors are much more genetic than we think. According to Montreal psychologists, we've already known for a while that some behavioral traits are heritable. However, it turns out that our parents' life experiences actually alter our behaviors, as well.
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How Behaviors Are Genetic
Behaviors that are directly affected by our hormones or neurotransmitters (basically brain chemicals) tend to be more fixed, and usually unaffected by our parents' life experiences. These attitudes include sensation-seeking, motivation, creativity, aggression, and so on and so forth. Those kinds of attitudes are regulated by hormones such as testosterone (the male hormone), and neurotransmitters like dopamine (the pleasure chemical). How much of these chemicals we produce are determined by our genes, and whether or not we are well-fed and healthy.
How Genes Can Be Turned On or Off
Welcome to the world of epigenetics. Basically, the idea is that in order for our genes to translate into our characteristics, they must undergo a process known as gene expression. For example, if we have the genius gene, we will only be a genius if that gene is expressed; here's the kicker: some genes are turned on and off depending on circumstances (and they can be passed down to our kids!). Genes that translate into frugality, meticulousness, openness, and self-control are the kind of genes that can be turned on and off.
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How Our Parents' Life Experiences Affect Our Behaviors
For parents who have lived in safe but impoverished circumstances, their children tend to be more frugal and meticulous, but exhibit lower openness. Parents in safe but average or wealthy circumstances tend to produce less frugal children. Finally, parents who have come into frequent contact with danger tend to produce children who are less meticulous, but more open. The way in which our epigenetics change are an evolutionary adaptation that increase our likelihood to procreate.
- We should think of it this way:
- Is there a point in making long-term plans if we live in the wild, surrounded by predators? Or are we better off doing what seems best in the moment? Is there really a point for rabbits to fight over grass against rabbits?
- Suppose we had a farm. Is it a smart idea to eat your seed crop in the winter? Or are we better off resisting hunger during the winter to ensure we have a crop in the spring? Would it make sense for wolves to share what little food they have with other wolf packs?
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not to be misinterpreted as medical, clinical, or any other professional advice. The views expressed are opinions and / or ideas founded on research and clinical experience. These views are meant to provoke awareness and inquiry into various issues, and thus, create an open-minded dialogue, civil discussion, and respectful debate among our readers. Any claims made are subject to change should new studies be conducted that disprove these claims.
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