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Do Children Inherit Their Parents' Personalities?

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

"She's got spunk just like her father." "He sure has his mother's kind heart." Phrases similar to those are often used when someone describes a child's personality. Although genetics play a critical role in a child's personality, his environment and other factors also influence a child's makeup.


Cognitive abilities, beliefs, morality, defense mechanisms and emotional states that characterize a child at each developmental stage are the result of assorted influences working together in complex ways. That's the summation of a report titled "The Role of Parents in Children's Psychological Development" published in the journal "Pediatrics." Cultural attitudes, quality of schools, peer relationships and parental behavior, which might not have been inherited, also contribute to the molding of a child's personality.


A child's inherited temperament or propensity to respond to and deal with environmental events in a particular way can sway learning opportunities for better or worse, and influence personal and social development, according to Education.com. For example, high-energy adventure seekers who enjoy a variety of experiences have more opportunities to learn social skills and create satisfying interpersonal relationships. On the other hand, a timid, cautious person has fewer opportunities to make friends and widen her social circle.

Expert Insight

A German observational study published in April 2001 in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" examined the personality traits of about 300 adult fraternal and identical twins. Researchers rated sets of twins on 35 adjective scales, mostly markers of the Big 5 -- extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect or imagination. Researchers learned that 40 percent of the twins' personalities were linked to genetics, while the remaining 60 percent were tied to environmental factors. The study results were based on videotaped behaviors of one twin of each pair in various settings observed by 120 judges who had never met the study participants.

For the Birds?

A study of the zebra finch published in the June 2013 edition of the journal "Biology Letter" poses questions about the inheritance of personality in other species, which might also be true for humans. Researchers at the University of Exeter and the University of Hamburg suggest that external conditions and experiences probably play a bigger role in personality development than do genetic factors. The study found that foster finch parents have a more significant effect on the personalities of non-biological offspring than do the genes inherited from birth parents.

What a Child Believes

Older preschoolers and kindergarteners might unconsciously and falsely assume that they have some of their parents' characteristics. For example, a girl whose mother jumps on a chair and screams when she sees a mouse run across the floor might believe that she's also afraid of mice. A little boy whose father loves to shoot baskets might think that he likes basketball too -- only to discover later on that he has no genuine interest in the sport.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

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