The Five Basic Traits, Continuity, Genes Versus Environment, and the Twin Studies

This article describes the five basic traits, continuity, genes versus environment and the twin studies. In terms of the five basic traits, I would describe myself as an extroverted, open to experience, conscientious, agreeable and not neurotic woman, or a woman who tends to be described by these traits. Not only can most people notice these traits in me over time or for a while but also they can notice them in all the areas of my life, such as the social, the spiritual, the financial, the physical, and the mental area. I am characterized by these traits in the long haul or in a continuous way.

There are two kinds of continuity: absolute and differential. Absolute continuity is the consistency in the amount of traits exhibited, and differential continuity is the consistency in individual differences in trait results over time. Some research showed how extraversion or positive affectivity, correlate to BAS or behavioral approach system, which manifests positive approach behaviors after incentives. BAS has dopamine and electrical brain pathways. Neuroticism manifests itself in anxiety, depression, moodiness, nervousness, hostility, vulnerability, hypochondriasis and overall emotional instability. I may have had neuroticism very mildly, for very short period of times, during childhood traumas, but, from my adolescence onward, I have been overall emotionally stable.

I have clients who score high in neuroticism, but I do not have friends who exhibit neuroticism and I choose to associate with people who have little or no neuroticism. After recommending neurotic friends that they get professional help, and after observing that they were not following my friendly recommendations, I kindly and politely de-committed and disassociated from them. I have no patience for people who act like victims of the world. I believe people create their own reality and everything happens for a reason. I believe adults cannot still blame their childhood for everything that goes wrong in their lives or for all of their failures. I believe people have to become aware, take responsibility, and design their future. Also, with the advancement of medicine and technologies, today, people can access any kind of information, so, if someone does not want to improve his or her life, unless they are mentally challenged, then that means they simply do not want to improve it, or they enjoy staying in a more mediocre state, or they are lazy.

In regard to conscientiousness, I am disciplined, responsible, reliable or committed, organized and perseverant. My word is law, and when I commit to someone or something, I follow-through and complete the task or experience, unless my life is threatened. I keep my word and I expect others to keep their word, as well, especially with me. The people who know me can safely say I am a person to count on. I like to keep my physical and electronic work and living space organized. I have implemented systems that help me stay organized, that help me stay focused and concentrated on the task at hand, that help me complete my tasks and that allow me instant retrievability of objects or information. This does not mean that if you enter my home or home office, everything is perfectly put together at all times.

I have a cat and a puppy and occasionally they put things out of order or, if I am having a busy day, I may not be caught up with my organization. In all the scientific, reliable and validated tests for perseverance, I score high. I believe that my perseverance is one of the major factors in the successes I have had and I have. If I really want something, I would not take the word no for an answer. At the same token, I understand when it is time to let go if something is not working out or becomes unethical. For instance, I invested three months of unpaid training with a company in San Diego. The company is owned by husband and wife who are going through their fifth divorce each. They have brought their drama to the workplace, overstepping professional boundaries, and, at some point, the husband made some sexual advances on me. Although I had persevered for three months and I was determined to succeed with their company, I determined, at the time of the advances, that I had to cut my losses, keep distance and let go of their neuroticism or emotional instability.

In regard to agreeableness, I am popular, I get along with everyone, I am empathetic, which makes me a great fit for this industry and niche, I love to help, I enjoy people and clients immensely, I am generous, and love is a priority in my life, maybe even over money. Love (family and friends) has always been the number one societal value in Italy, where I grew up. In the USA, monetary successes are usually more important than relations, but, although I am both an American and a European citizen now, I still, just like when I was growing up, embrace the old continent’s values. In regard to openness to experience, I am usually the first one, in a group, to volunteer to try something new and pioneer new ways, as long as it is not endangering my life or lives of others. For instance, I am open to try new food recipes or combinations, new medical technologies (eleven years ago, I donated my eggs to my friends who could not have children on their own and they had triplets, but, at the time, egg donation fertility was brand new and not completely tested), investments, and new work methodologies. I take chances and I do not regret later. Sometimes I lose big and sometimes I win big.

In regard to openness to extraversion, I am quite highly extraverted. I am not afraid to talk to anyone. I am a just a bit shy with men I find attractive, but I am still extroverted. I get re-energized and recharged by being around people. I enjoy people. I have some friends who are introverted, and, because of my psychological experience, I know when they need to be alone and I am respectful of their need. Longitudinal research showed differential continuity in traits over adulthood. Many psychologists, including myself, although I only have a Master’s, believe that childhood temperament provides a trampoline for traits to shape. Temperament is differences in behavior since childhood, related to genes. Caspi (1998) claims temperament becomes traits through: learning processes, environmental elicitation and construal, social and temporal comparisons, and environmental selection and manipulation (Caspi, 1998).

In my life, I grew up in Europe, in an isolated, rural place, which was torture for my extroversion. As soon as I could, at age twenty, of course, I moved to one of the most populated country on earth: the United States. As of today, I could comfortably say I could never live in the country or in a place under populated, for more than for a short vacation. Today, we know that genes are responsible for the inheritance of characteristics. An infant takes about half of his or her genes from the biological mother and about half from the biological father. Genes are transmitted through generations. Through generational transmissions, strange occurrences could happen to transform or mutate genes for the better or for the worse. Living creatures’ bodies may change over time to solve environmental challenges or problems. These changes become inclusive fitness of the living beings of that species. The best example of these changes is the human mind.

The University of Minnesota study of identical twins grown up apart showed that genes contribute in a major way to personality traits. By the same token, for anyone to be alive, behave and develop personality, both genes and the environment are necessary. Research shows that measurable traits are heritable. Personality is the result of the interaction between genes and the environment. In twin studies, non-shared environmental factors that shape personality are: prenatal environment, accidents, birth order, sibling interaction, parental style, peer group and teacher influences. Genes can affect how one person decides to perceive the environment or reality or they can affect the environment that the individual chooses. For instance, in my case, being the second child, I was always compared to my older sister and asked why I was not like her. I rebelled against those questions, and I became her exact opposite. I don’t think she and I have anything in common, although I love her. Was my personality the result of genes or the environment, such as the birth order? It was probably a combination of both, even if most of my family and relatives ‘ personalities are like my sister’s and parents’. So far, I have only one second degree aunt and my only nephew, who share my personality, which is 10% of my relatives.

Longitudinal studies document that people tend to increase agreeableness, conscientiousness, responsibility, autonomy and self-confidence during adulthood, especially educated women. Jack Block (1995), through the California Q-sort, studied ego control and resiliency His studies generated the following personality kinds: individuated, traditional, conflicted and assured. In my case, I am definitely individuated. I pride myself to be original and I am often told so by people around me, in terms of my creative and original thoughts. I love thinking outside the box. I don’t like to conform or be traditional; I prefer to be cutting edge and innovative, of course still remaining within ethical and moral standards. I have been one of the first Italians to adopt vegan nutrition. Perhaps, as a young girl, being raised by parents who were not fortunate to receive a high education, and having had a father, who became physically sick when I was six years old, I was conflicted. I thought I was the cause of that sickness, which is a natural thought for kids at that age. Growing up, I became more and more assured. I always knew what I wanted to be, to do and to have when I was older, since age seven or so.

Personality changes may occur depending on life goals, tasks, projects, values, coping mechanisms, interests, interpretations of the past, and visions. Characteristic adaptations and integrative life stories add on to traits in shaping personality. My life is a testimony of the previous statement. I am looking forward to continuing to discover more research studies in the field of Personality Psychology.

Caspi, A. (1998). Personality development across the life course. Handbook of child psychology, 3, 311-388.
Block, J. (1995). A contrarian view of the five-factor approach to personality description. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 187-215.

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