There are quite a few behaviors that are determined by genetics, as well as many that we learn from our parents as we grow up, and it can be tough to tell the difference. This is the whole concept of "nature versus nurture," which ventures to answer how much of our personalities are inherited versus learned or emulated.
While we may copy behaviors that we witness growing up, there are quite a few that have a strong genetic component, and are more likely to be inherited. "Twin adoption studies demonstrate these — identical twins separated at birth and raised by different parents uncannily exhibit the same idiosyncrasies," psychologist and executive coach Dr. Perpetua Neo tells Bustle. "We also know that generally, if you have parents who are confident, outgoing, and vivacious — and you're watching them at it all the time, meaning you pick up those skills and your brain unconsciously thinks, 'That's my destiny!' — you're likely to become that."
But it doesn't mean you're necessarily controlled by your genes, Dr. Neo says, or even that you're stuck with learned traits. "We also hear of the stories of those who say, 'My parents are the most charming people, but I'm so anxious around strangers!' That's for reasons like the fact they inherited other genes, had experiences that shaped their perspectives differently [...] or they learned from other role models [....]," Dr. Neo says. So it's always possible that you'll end up very different from your parents, and that you can change any behaviors you don't like — possibly with the help of a therapist. With that in mind, here are a few behaviors that may be determined by genetics, according to experts.
1. How Likely Someone Is To Cheat
Anyone can cheat on their partner — and for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with genetics. But for others, genetics may play a role. "[A tendency to cheat] could be linked to genetics based on ... testosterone levels, etc.," clinical psychologist Dr. Lori Whatley tells Bustle. But she says in many cases, cheating is often a learned behavior. "As adults we tend to recreate the life modeled for us as children," she adds. "Therefore, if someone experiences a parent cheating, they are more likely to repeat this behavior than someone who did not see this."
There may not be a "cheating gene," but someone's inherited personality traits can lead them down that road. "Personality types like the Dark Triad Types (Narcissists, Psychopaths, Machiavellians) are likelier to be more impulsive ... [and] they are also likelier to cheat on their partners," Dr. Neo says. "And these personality types have a high genetic heritability. So there's no direct gene, but rather how the gene influences the pathways towards expression and strengthening of the behavior."
2. Being Prone To Addiction
"Addictions can be genetic," Dr. Whatley says. "When I find it in one family member, it is likely in another before them." But it can also be a learned behavior, which is why therapists look at all factors.
If someone inherits a tendency or gene for addiction, and they grow up seeing it modeled for them every day, they are often more susceptible, Dr. Whatley says. "If they have this addiction gene and they don't see addiction modeled by another family member ... they may still become addicted but it is not as likely."
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).
3. Having A Certain Temperament
Your baseline temperament may be something that came in on your genes, so don't be surprised the next time you catch yourself reacting to a situation exactly the way your mom would.
"We are born with the temperament we take through life," Dr. Whatley says. "Some of us have a tendency toward anxiety and some toward depression, for example." And, this may be why we have glass half full and glass half empty types.
But there can have a "nurture" factor, too. "The experiences we have as we age definitely affect us," Dr. Whatley says. "Our temperament is connected to our reaction to the experiences we have as we age. So it makes sense that I might have my mom's temperament due to genetics, and we might both react the same way to problems because [...] she modeled this for me as I grew up and [...] I am genetically inclined to react this way."
4. Feeling Anxious & Neurotic
If you're a highly neurotic and/or anxious person, genes may be a factor as to why. "There's good evidence that genetics influence the Big Five personality traits (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism), which in turn influences our behaviors and our outcomes in life," Dr. Neo says. "For instance, a person who's wired to be more neurotic (preoccupied about details, lost in their head) are likelier to be anxious and depressed. It feeds into a cycle where our genes make us more predisposed towards a certain pattern of behavior and therefore our mental wellbeing."
And this has been seen time and time again in studies. "The personality trait of neuroticism has been studied extensively using twin and adoption studies, showing heritability estimates ranging from 13 to 58 percent," psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee tells Bustle. "High levels of neuroticism are associated with lifetime disorders such as major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder."
5. Being More Extroverted Than Introverted
While you may have picked up a few extroverted personality traits by watching your parents be gracious and outgoing as you grew up, there may be a genetic factor here, too.
"The personality trait of extroversion has also been studied extensively using twin and adoption studies, showing heritability estimates ranging from 34 to 57 percent," Dr. Forshee says. "Extraversion is a tendency for high levels of sociability, activity, sensation-seeking, and positive emotions." Again, this is one of the Big Five personality traits, which has high genetic factors.
6. Having ADHD Symptoms
There's a high genetic component for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) symptoms and behaviors as well. As Dr. Neo says, "There is a high degree of genetic heritability, and this predisposes [you] to be more restless, creative, and open to ideas." If one or both of your parents — or another close relative — acted this way, it may explain why you do, too.
7. Being A Risk Taker
If you're a huge fan of rollercoasters, or someone who would go bungee jumping tomorrow if given the chance, it may be a sign that you inherited a "risk taking gene" from your parents.
This behavior often stems from the ADHD symptoms mentioned above, since folks with ADHD are "more likely to be thrill-seeking because their brains have a higher threshold to be stimulated," Dr. Neo says. "[This] in turn makes people with ADHD a great candidate for entrepreneurship and innovation."
In other words, if you're someone who is brave and takes risk, you may be more likely to take that energy and channel it into starting your own business.
Of course, it's also possible that you've turned out nothing like your parents. Whatever the case may be, behaviors can always be worked on, utilized, improved, or changed — so don't feel like you're stuck with them.