The reality of what it means to be human -2

Being human, and what makes you so, is a complex concept. All we can do is look at the various aspects  of what makes us us, and understand that none of them are the whole story

Last week I looked at what makes us different from our ape cousins who share 99% of our DNA but are totally different intellectually ( It essentially comes down to larger heads and more brain connections!!).

Another Horizon programme recently came to my attention which looked at the topic from a totally different perspective. It was called “The truth about personality” and dealt with how personalities are actually created, and if they are fixed or can be changed.


What is personality anyway?

Micheal Moseley, the presenter, defined it as a complex mix of characteristics and emotions. He did not mention the subconscious directly though. This is a powerful part of our mind that we are not aware of, and some think that it influences what we feel and do more than we realise on a day to day basis. Simplistically, it takes in all the information that our sense organs are receiving continually and filters them and makes sense of them for us. Its filtering can affect our perceptions.

What he did explore was that whether we are optimists or pessimists, cheerful by nature or depressive, depends on these filters that we have in our physical brains. Some brains are tuned in to see the negative first, some pick up on positive.

Long term studies done on personality types and ageing have actually found that cheerful and optimistic people, with good mental attitudes, may have an average seven and a half years more of life expectancy. Negative brains suffer a much higher level of stress which can cause all sorts of physical problems.

Can personality be changed?

The characteristics that make us who we are seem to come from a combination of nature and nurture. Around 40 -50 % of them come from our genetics. The rest are generated by factors such as environment, upbringing, nurture and life experience.

As a self confessed negative thinker, Michael, was exploring whether personality was fixed or could change. (In his case the answer was yes, he managed to change his filters by Cogitative Bias Modification exercises and mediation)

Twin studies

In the bigger picture, scientists at St Thomas Hospital London are looking at sets of identical, therefore sharing the same genetics, twins. They became particularly interested in those who, whilst being very similar, seem to have differences in mental attitudes. If they have had the same genes, nurturing and upbringing, why should this happen?

Back to genes

Their conclusion was, surprisingly, that the genetic component to our personality is more flexible than we think. Genes can be switched on or off by life experiences, often traumatic. Personality is more flexible than we think and can be modified throughout our life.


As ever, the science was very interesting and gave real insights, but was not the whole story. Yet again no mention of the soul, spirit or consciousness, or the supra natural gifts that some have which raise humanity above just their genetics.

What I find really interesting though, was the fact that genes can be switched on and off throughout our lives. I understand that we share genes with all of the organic world. Could genes other than those used to create personality ever be switched on and off also? Scary thought!!

What do you think?







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