Is personality genetic or environment? Nature or nurture?

According to science: both—but in weird ways.

The Basics of Personality Science:

Our personalities are complicated, multi-dimensional beasts. But you can boil down some basic traits. 5 to be precise. And based on four different twin studies, researchers believe certain traits are more heritable than others. For example, how adventurous you are is the most heritable trait, while how easy going you are is the least heritable. In other words, if your parents love trying new foods, you are more likely to enjoy that as well. But if your parents are laid-back hippies, you have less of a chance of being a hippie.

Here is the overview for you:


How creative, imaginary and open to new ideas you are.

  • Openness has 57% genetic influence


How organized and detail-oriented you are.

  • Conscientiousness has 49% genetic influence


How you relate to people and how outgoing you are.

  • Extraversion has 54% genetic influence


How you are working with others and how easy-going you are.

  • Agreeableness has 42% genetic influence


How much you worry and how emotionally stable you are.

  • Neuroticism has 48% genetic influence

Take the Personality Quiz:

You are either high, low or middle-of-the-road in each trait. We have a free quiz you can take to find out where you rank on each:


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Personality Comes from Our Brain?

They have even found that there are physiological differences tied to each of the personality types. We are only beginning to understand the complex ties between our brain, body and personality, but here are a few findings that hint at how our chemistry effects our behavior:

  • People high in extraversion have been found to carry long forms of the gene DRD4. This gene dictates how we produce dopamine. Those who carry the long form of the gene DRD4 have more dopamine production when they have a positive experience. In other words, high extroverts might be wired to seek more social experiences because they get a bigger chemical pleasure boost.
  • People high in conscientiousness have been found to have more volume in the middle frontal gyrus in the left lateral pre-frontal cortex part of the brain. This is where we plan for the future and make decisions. In other words, people high in conscientiousness might enjoy planning and preparing more because they have more activity in that part of their brain.
  • People high in agreeableness have been found to have less volume in the orbitofrontal lobe of their brain—this is where we process emotions and make decisions. One study also found that people who are highly agreeable have an easier time predicting the mental states of others. In other words, perhaps they are good at working in teams because they excel at understanding and forecasting behavioral and emotional states.
  • People who are high in neuroticism have been found to carry long forms of the Serotonin Transport Gene. This gene helps us produce serotonin, which calms us down. High neurotics produce serotonin more slowly, so they have a harder time regulating their emotions after a negative event. They also feel their emotions more strongly and for a longer period. In other words, neurotics worry more because it physiologically takes them longer to recover from something bad happening to them.

Understanding the connection between our personality and our physiology is crucial. Why? It means that we cannot choose our personality orientations.

Don’t get mad at your spouse if they want to go out all the time—they might be wired for extroversion. Don’t be angry at your colleague for not being detail-oriented, their brain is not wired for high concientiousness.

Bottom Line: Accept people as they are. Don’t try to change the people in your life, try to optimize and understand them.


Roberts, Brent W., Nathan R. Kuncel, Rebecca Shiner, Avshalom Caspi, and Lewis R. Goldberg. “The Power of Personality: The Comparative Validity of Personality Traits, Socioeconomic Status, and Cognitive Ability for Predicting Important Life Outcomes.” Perspect on Psych Science Perspectives on Psychological Science 2, no. 4 (December 2007): 313-45. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00047.x.

Jang, Kerry L., W. John Livesley, and Philip A. Vemon. “Heritability of the Big Five Personality Dimensions and Their Facets: A Twin Study.” J Personality Journal of Personality 64, no. 3 (September 1996): 577-92. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00522.x.

Bouchard, Thomas J., and Matt Mcgue. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Psychological Differences.” Journal of Neurobiology J. Neurobiol. 54, no. 1 (January 2003): 4-45. doi:10.1002/neu.10160.

Taki, Yasuyuki, Benjamin Thyreau, Shigeo Kinomura, Kazunori Sato, Ryoi Goto, Kai Wu, Ryuta Kawashima, and Hiroshi Fukuda. “A Longitudinal Study of the Relationship between Personality Traits and the Annual Rate of Volume Changes in Regional Gray Matter in Healthy Adults.” Human Brain Mapping Hum. Brain Mapp 34, no. 12 (December 2013): 3347-353. doi:10.1002/hbm.22145.

Deyoung, C. G., J. B. Hirsh, M. S. Shane, X. Papademetris, N. Rajeevan, and J. R. Gray. “Testing Predictions From Personality Neuroscience: Brain Structure and the Big Five.” Psychological Science 21, no. 6 (June 2010): 820-28. doi:10.1177/0956797610370159.

Chen, Chuansheng, Michael Burton, Ellen Greenberger, and Julia Dmitrieva. “Population Migration and the Variation of Dopamine D4 Receptor (DRD4) Allele Frequencies Around the Globe.” Evolution and Human Behavior 20, no. 5 (September 1999): 309-24. doi:10.1016/s1090-5138(99)00015-x.

Ode, Scott, Michael D. Robinson, and Benjamin M. Wilkowski. “Can One’s Temper Be Cooled? A Role for Agreeableness in Moderating Neuroticism’s Influence on Anger and Aggression.” Journal of Research in Personality 42, no. 2 (April 2008): 295-311. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2007.05.007.

Caspi, Avshalom, Ahmad R. Hariri, Andrew Holmes, Rudolf Uher, and Terrie E. Moffitt. “Genetic Sensitivity to the Environment: The Case of the Serotonin Transporter Gene and Its Implications for Studying Complex Diseases and Traits.” Foc Focus 8, no. 3 (May 2010): 398-416. doi:10.1176/foc.8.3.foc398.

Wiggins, Jerry S. The Five-factor Model of Personality: Theoretical Perspectives. New York: Guilford Press, 1996.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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