The Family's Influence on a Child's Personality
Personality characteristics have been a common focal point in psychological research studies through the years, and there has always been discussion as to how many family influences play a role in personality development. When it comes to nature versus nurture, or the environment a person grows up in, it is still somewhat unclear as to how much each influences personality characteristics.
Environment and Personality
The environment that children grow up in certainly has some impact on what type of personality characteristics they develop. If families are high conflict, and the children are drawn into many arguments and disagreements, they are much more likely to become withdrawn or have a personality that is conflict-driven as they grow older. In addition, if a family does not have any sort of structure within the household, children will be much more impulsive and may get into trouble more often than children who come from structured households.
Birth order in children can have major effects on their personality traits as they continue to get older, especially if the age between siblings is close 2. First-borns have been shown to take on more responsibility than younger siblings, which likely has to do with the parenting style of the new parents. They are often perfectionists who feel large amounts of pressure to accomplish the most that they can. In addition, a middle child can tend to get lost in the mix of the family and be more withdrawn and impulsive than the other children.
Despite the environment playing a role in personality traits, there are still genetic influences that play a role in the development of personality traits. Genetic similarities between the family and child can lead to children having a temperament and attitude that is similar to their parents. For example, outgoing parents can have children who are more willing to take risks as they continue to grow older.
Genetic and environmental influences also have been linked to the development of personality disorders, or deeply ingrained, inflexible patterns of personality traits that cause distress in a person’s life 3. According to the American Psychiatric Association, genetic influences play a role in the development of personality disorders, especially in obsessive-compulsive disorder, while environmental influences such as past trauma and verbal abuse also contribute to the disorders 13. Developing strong bonds to people can help prevent the development of a personality disorder, whether that bond is with a parent, close relative or even a peer.
- American Psychological Association; What Causes Personality Disorders?; 2011
- CBS News; Personality Traits Linked to Birth Order; Rome Neal; February 2009
- Mental Health America; Personality Disorders; 2011
- McCrae RR, Costa PT. Validation of the Five-Factor Model of Personality Across Instruments and Observers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1987;52: 81-90.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Prevalence: Any Personality Disorder.
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