Biological Theory of Personality | Practical Psychology (2022)

The debate between nature vs. nurture is almost as old as the chicken vs. the egg. What is more likely to influence how we develop a personality and how we behave? Is it the genes we are born with? Or are we taught and molded by our parents, schoolteachers, and culture? Behaviorist and humanist perspectives take on the “nurture” side of the debate. But let’s talk about the “nature” side. The biological theory of personality gives us more questions and answers to think about as we reflect on our own personalities.

What is The Biological Perspective on Personality?

This perspective posits that we are genetically predisposed to certain personality traits, from cleanliness to extraversion. This counters the idea that our environment and life experiences form our personalities. Similarly, evolutionary theory suggests that our personality comes from an environment that favors certain traits over time.

Some of the earliest and most famous examples of the biological perspective is ideas brought forth by Charles Darwin. Darwin was the father of evolutionary psychology. His theories of evolution suggested that species evolve over time; members of said species with stronger traits were more likely to reproduce and pass those traits onto their offspring. Evolution doesn’t just favor physical traits, like taller people or faster swimmers.

Genes and the Brain

Where do biologists find our traits? In our genes and our brains. To test this theory, psychologists have studied identical twins. Identical twins have the same genes, but those who are separated at birth will grow up in completely different environments. When scientists look at their similarities and differences, they can get a sense of what is nature and what is nurture.

Using Identical Twin studies, we can narrow down what percentage of traits may be due to genetics. If a trait can be passed down through a gene, we call it “Heritable”.

Biological Theory of Personality | Practical Psychology (1)

Heritability: A variance between multiple people that can be accounted for by genetic differences.

(Video) Psychology 101: Biological Theories of Personality

Some of our personality traits are influenced by genes, and some are not.

For example, according to identical twin personality research, these traits have been correlated to be influenced by genetics:

  • Social Closeness: 15%
  • Achievement Orientation: 38%
  • Traditionalism: 59%
  • Imagination: 74%

One example of a gene that can influence a trait is the Dopamine-4 Receptor Gene. This gene has been connected with the trait of thrill-seeking and people enjoying novelty.

The Jim Twins

Take the Jim Twins as a real-life example that traits can be passed via genes.

Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were identical twins separated at birth. They finally connected at the age of 39 and quickly made headlines for their very similar lives. Both were the same height and weight with similar habits. What’s weirder is that both twins had been married twice to women with the same first names. (Their first wives’ name was Linda, the second’s was Betty.) They also drove the same car. How crazy are these similarities?

Not everything about the Jim twins was similar; they wore different hairstyles and chose different professions. But the story of the Jim twins and other studies of identical twins show that our genes may be very closely correlated with our personality traits and the decisions we make.

Brain Chemistry and Personality Traits

Other studies show just how important our brain chemistry is to our reactions and how we assess our environment. Different parts of the brain “go off” as we make decisions. The stronger these responses are, the more likely a person is to hold certain personality traits. For example, people who are highly neurotic have stronger responses in their amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for reacting to fear.

(Video) Biological theory | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy

Biological theorists believe by changing the size of our amygdala, theoretically, we could change how neurotic a person is. That is, if you could control the size of a particular brain section.

The physical structure of the brain may also be linked to personality traits. Studies from Cambridge University revealed a positive correlation between openness and folding in the prefrontal cortices.

Biological Perspective Examples: Neuroplasticity

It is easy to write the “nature” theory off as something that cannot change. People may believe that if you are born with an aggressive temperament, you can’t do too much to change your genes and your tendencies to be aggressive.

That’s not exactly true. Our brains have the potential to change and cause our personalities to change. One famous example of this case is that of Phineas Gage. Gage was a railroad worker in the 1840s. While working, he suffered a serious accident. An explosion sent a tampering iron straight into his head, damaging a large part of his brain. Phineas Gage somehow survived the horrific accident, but not without consequences.

Biological Theory of Personality | Practical Psychology (2)

When Gage came back to work after his accident, his coworkers noticed some serious changes in his personality. He wasn’t as friendly and was more prone to using profane language. He was a changed man, and his case is a prime example of how brain injury can severely affect personality.

Drugs, poor physical health, and even smartphones have the ability to change brain chemistry and potentially affect personality.

(Video) Biological basis of personality - Intro to Psychology

So, due to the principle of neuroplasticity, which means we can essentially re-wire our brain… we also come to the conclusion that we can change our brain chemistry – and ultimately change our personality.

What Does The Biological Perspective of Personality Say About Personality Disorders?

Studying personality isn’t just about whether someone is naturally funny or open to new experiences. Answers must also be gathered regarding personality disorders. But there have been studies to prove that the structure of the brain may influence the development of a personality disorder. For example, smaller regions of certain parts of the brain may be linked to Cluster B personality disorders. Abnormalities in the brain have been linked to Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This is not to say that environmental factors play no role in personality disorders, but that these findings should continue to be explored.

Biological Theory of Personality | Practical Psychology (3)

What Did Hans Eysenck Believe About The Biological Theory of Personality?

Not all psychologists believe that solely nature or nurture are responsible for constructing someone’s personality. Trait theorist Hans Eysenck believed that a combination of genetic predispositions and our experiences during childhood worked together to form personality. Eysenck also developed a theory of personality that centered around three traits. This became a large influence on the psychologists who developed the Big Five and other theories within trait theory. (Other trait theories included lists of over 4,000 traits or 35 factors. Quite the range!)

Other Theories That Incorporate the Biological Theory of Personality

Hans Eysenck is not the only psychologist who looked to biology to explain personality. If you are interested in reading more, I suggest learning about the following:

  • Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory:This theory explores how the fight-or-flight response influences personality
  • Cloninger Model of Personality:This theory explores the influence of hormone production and release (dopamine, serotonin, etc.)
  • Five Factor Model of Personality:This theory is also known as “The Big Five” and has expanded to become the “HEXACO Model”

Comparing Biological Theory of Personality to Other Theories of Personality

Not every personality psychologist pointed to biology when describing personality, but many believed that biological factors played a part in how we become the people we are. This brief description of personality theories shows how biological theory compares to other schools of thought within psychology.

Freud

Sigmund Freud believed the psyche was made of three separate entities that influenced personality and behavior. (These separate entities are the id, superego, and ego.) Drives innate to a person’s nature dictate how the three entities interact. So Freud believes our personalities are all nature, right? Not exactly. He also pointed to childhood experiences and conflicts that shape a person’s personality. The impact on a person’s personality depends on which psychosexual stage of development the experience occurred. A child who experiences trauma in the “anal stage” (ages 3-5) may develop an anal-retentive personality. Freud’s cringy theories fall in the middle of the nature-nurture debate.

(Video) Intro to Psychology Theories of Personality

BF Skinner and Behaviorists

BF Skinner, John B. Watson, and behaviorists believed a person’s experiences shaped their personality. John B. Watson famously said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” That’s all nurture.

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman’s fascinating experiments with learned helplessness suggest that external factors and the illusion of control influence many elements of personality and behavior. But Seligman’s experiments go beyond shock collars and helplessness. In a study on twins and genetics, he suggests there may be a “substantial genetic effect” on optimism. His work is not done, but one could argue that Seligman also sits in the middle of the nature vs. nurture spectrum.

Erik and Joan Erikson

Erik and Joan Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development are similar to Sigmund Freud’s, but involve fewer cringy theories. Instead, they focus on crises at each stage of a person’s life. How a child moves through that crisis determines their behaviors and personality. A child who fails to learn trust in the first stage of development may fail to trust in later stages if proper support is not offered. Erikson’s work suggests that experiences like support from teachers, love from family shape personality. They are on the “nurture” side of nature vs. nurture.

Nature or Nurture?

As we wrap up this article, I would like to offer my thoughts on the nature vs. nurture debate.

Lessons from the biological theory of psychology and behaviorism both offer convincing arguments that nature and nurture influence personality. So which side is the winner?

I believe that nature and nurture are like ingredients of a cake. Cakes need flour, eggs, baking soda, and a few other ingredients to become a cake. But do we say that flour “causes” a cake? Not really. We need a bit of both flour and eggs, and only after making many cakes can we see the nuances of what adding more or less of each ingredient does to the cake.

Flour doesn’t “cause” a cake. Genes don’t “cause” personality. However, each part is an important section of the whole.

(Video) Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory on Instincts: Motivation, Personality and Development

We can connect certain tendencies to act a certain way to different parts of the brain. When Phineas Gage’s personality changed overnight, for example, psychologists could pinpoint what parts of his missing brain had influenced certain traits. Other personality traits are influenced greater by our environment and culture. If we are taught to value agreeableness and grew up in an environment where being agreeable is easy, we are more likely to find ways to be agreeable.

So are our personalities influenced by nature or nurture? I say both!

FAQs

What is the biological theory in personality psychology? ›

The biological basis of personality is the theory which states that the anatomical structures located in the brain contribute to personality traits. This is derived from neuropsychology, a branch of science which studies how structure of the brain is related to various psychological processes and behaviors.

What is the main idea of biological theory? ›

Biological Theory is devoted to theoretical advances in the fields of evolution and cognition with an emphasis on the conceptual integration afforded by evolutionary and developmental approaches.

Is personality biologically determined? ›

Personality is not determined by any single gene, but rather by the actions of many genes working together. Behavioural genetics refers to a variety of research techniques that scientists use to learn about the genetic and environmental influences on human behaviour.

Who is the founder of biological theory of personality? ›

History of biology-based personality research

However, the most cited and influential figures in publishing the first biology-based personality theories are Hans Eysenck and Jeffrey Alan Gray. Eysenck used both behavioral and psychophysiological methodologies to test and develop his theories.

What is an example of a biological theory? ›

One example of a biological theory is the germ theory of disease. the germ theory of disease posits that certain microbes can make us ill if we are exposed to a certain amount of them and that some illnesses caused by certain microorganisms can be spread person-to-person.

What are the 3 biological theories? ›

Biological theories can be classified into three types: (1) those that attempt to differentiate among individuals on the basis of certain innate (i.e., those with which you are born) outward physical traits or characteristics; (2) those that attempt to trace the source of differences to genetic or hereditary ...

Why is biological theory important? ›

By looking at the biological bases of human behavior, psychologists are better able to understand how the brain and physiological processes might influence the way people think, act, and feel.

Can biological theory affect human behavior? ›

Our social networks, personal interactions, and relationships are determined by both our genes and the world around us. Some behaviors may have a genetic basis, but genes do not actually control behavior. Rather, our genetic makeup influences how we interact with and respond to our surroundings.

Are the biological theories still applicable today? ›

Although the popularity of such earlier biological theories has waned, research has continued, yielding important findings. For example, studies have found general evidence for a connection between biology and criminality for both twins and adoptees.

What is biological factors of personality? ›

In brief, personality is a comprehensive concept that give importance on the growth and behaviour of the child as an organised whole. Biological Factors: The biological factors are of biogenic by nature and include those of heredity, endocrine glands, physique and physical condition, nervous system, etc.

Which biological factor is the most important in determining one's personality? ›

Heredity

One of the biggest personality determinants is heredity. In fact, it may be the most important factor, since most of the other determinants (with the except of social/family), such as physical characteristics, gender, psychology, and more, are passed down through genes.

What is one weakness of the biological approach? ›

One weakness of the biological approach is that it is nomothetic. This is a weakness because it develops theories about disorders and generalizes them to apply to everyone. It does not take into account the view that humans are unique.

What is the meaning biological theories? ›

Biological Theory is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering the fields of evolution and cognition, including cognitive psychology, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, evolutionary biology, and developmental biology.

What is the definition of biological basis? ›

1 an inherent periodicity in the physiological processes of living organisms that is not dependent on the periodicity of external factors. 2 the hypothetical mechanism responsible for this periodicity, (See also) → circadian. biological control.

What is a biological person? ›

In biological terms, a human being, or human, is any member of the mammalian species Homo sapiens, a group of ground-dwelling, tailless primates that are distributed worldwide and are characterized by bipedalism and the capacity for speech and language, with an erect body carriage that frees the hands for manipulating ...

What are some examples of biological psychology? ›

Biological Approach Examples

An example of the biological approach to psychology would be the fear response. The fear response gives way to fight, flight, or freeze behaviors.

What are the main assumptions of the biological approach? ›

Assumptions (AO1)

The main assumption of the biological approach is that our thinking and behavior are strongly determined by biological factors: structure and functioning of the nervous system. This in turn is influenced by genetic and evolutionary factors.

Why is biological psychology relevant in psychology? ›

Biopsychology represents one of the important ways of thinking about psychology. This perspective in psychology has allowed researchers to gain a greater understanding of how the brain and nervous system influence human behavior.

How do biological factors affect behavior? ›

A growing body of evidence suggests that biological factors such as genes, hormone levels, brain structure, and brain functioning influence the development and trajectory of conduct problems in youth.

What are the major concepts of biological psychology? ›

The major concepts of biological psychology include genetics and how genes influence behavior and cognition, chemical processes in the brain, and neuroplasticity.

What are the key characteristics of a biological perspective? ›

Key assumptions of the biological approach
  • There is a direct correlation between brain activity and cognition.
  • Biochemical imbalances can affect behaviour.
  • Brain physiology can affect behaviour.
  • Behaviour can be inherited (as it is determined by genetic information)

How much of our behavior is biological? ›

He explains that genes only make up ~50% of our behaviours while the rest is influenced by our environment.

How does biological perspective explain human behavior? ›

The biological perspective states that all thoughts, feeling & behavior ultimately have a biological cause. It is one of the major perspectives in psychology and involves such things as studying the brain, genetics, hormones, and the immune and nervous systems.

How biological theories can have an effect on the causation of crime? ›

Degeneration Theory (1857)

Degeneracy Theory, an offshoot of 19th century research into biological theories of crime, argues that certain (lower) social classes and races were predisposed to neurological and mental illnesses by inheritance, making them more likely to commit crimes.

What are the main limitations of biological theories of criminal behaviour? ›

Another shortcoming of the biological theory of criminology is the fact that it does not provide causal evidence. That is, it cannot tell us if the biology causes the criminal activity or if the criminal activity causes the biological differences or if something else causes both of them.

What is biological theory of gender development? ›

The biological approach towards gender development suggests that there is no distinction between sex and gender. This approach believes that biological sex creates gendered behaviour. It also suggests that gender is determined by biological factors, such as hormones.

What are the biological influences? ›

Biological factors include genetic influences, brain chemistry, hormone levels, nutrition, and gender.

What are some biological bases of the Big Five theory of personality? ›

Biological stress reactivity based on the five-factor approach of personality. The “big five or five-factor” model (FFM) is known as a broadly accepted construct that describes the diversity of personality in five dimensions: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

What are the 4 theories of personality? ›

Psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait perspective and behaviorist theory are the four main personality theories.

Is personality more nature or nurture? ›

Overall, genetics has more influence than do parents on shaping our personality. Molecular genetics is the study of which genes are associated with which personality traits. The largely unknown environmental influences, known as the nonshared environmental effects, have the largest impact on personality.

Does a person's environment affect their personality? ›

It is true that environmental influences, including parenting, affect personality. Based on genetic data, researchers have concluded that environment accounts for approximately 50 to 70 percent of personality.

What determines a person's personality? ›

Personality is a result of the combination of four factors, i.e., physical environment, heredity, culture, and particular experiences. Here we discuss each factor determining personality separately.

Is the biological approach good? ›

A strength of the biological approach is that it provides clear predictions, for example, about the effects of neurotransmitters, or the behaviors of people who are genetically related. This means the explanations can be scientifically tested and 'proven.

What are the strengths of biological theories? ›

Advantages. It is very scientific because the experiments used are measurable, objective and can be repeated to test for reliability. It is deterministic because it increases the likelihood of being able to treat people with abnormal behaviour and provides explanations about the causes of behaviour.

What factors does the biological approach ignore? ›

Nature over nurture - mental illness has multiple causes, yet the biological approach focuses on just biology, tending to ignore life experiences and psychological factors such as how people think and feel.

Which of the following is a biological basis of behaviour? ›

It is examins the biological basis of behaviour. Behavioral genetics examines the role of genetic and environmental influences on animal (including human) behavior.

What are biological foundations of behavior? ›

Biological structures and processes serve as the pathways by which bodies carry out activities. They also affect predispositions to behave in certain ways, shape personalities, and influence the likelihood of developing psychological disorders.

Is the biological basis of being male or female? ›

(c) sex is the biological basis of being male or female. Explanation: A person with XX chromosomes usually has female sex and reproductive organs and is therefore usually assigned biologically female.

What is the best definition of biological? ›

Listen to pronunciation. (BY-oh-LAH-jih-kul) Pertaining to biology or to life and living things. In medicine, refers to a substance made from a living organism or its products.

What is a biological child? ›

biological child in American English

noun. any child conceived rather than adopted by a specified parent, and therefore carrying genes from the parent.

What are the biological factors of personality? ›

In brief, personality is a comprehensive concept that give importance on the growth and behaviour of the child as an organised whole. Biological Factors: The biological factors are of biogenic by nature and include those of heredity, endocrine glands, physique and physical condition, nervous system, etc.

What are some biological bases of the Big Five theory of personality? ›

Biological stress reactivity based on the five-factor approach of personality. The “big five or five-factor” model (FFM) is known as a broadly accepted construct that describes the diversity of personality in five dimensions: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

What is Eysenck's biological theory? ›

Eysenck's Personality Theory

Eysenck (1952, 1967, 1982) proposed a theory of personality based on biological factors, arguing that individuals inherit a type of nervous system that affects their ability to learn and adapt to the environment.

Which biological factor is the most important in determining one's personality? ›

Heredity

One of the biggest personality determinants is heredity. In fact, it may be the most important factor, since most of the other determinants (with the except of social/family), such as physical characteristics, gender, psychology, and more, are passed down through genes.

How does biological factors influence behavior? ›

A growing body of evidence suggests that biological factors such as genes, hormone levels, brain structure, and brain functioning influence the development and trajectory of conduct problems in youth.

What are some examples of biological factors? ›

Biological factors include genetic influences, brain chemistry, hormone levels, nutrition, and gender.

What is the meaning of biological factors? ›

By. n. Anything which affects the function and behavior of a living organism. Internally, this factor can be a physical, physiological, chemical, neurological, or genetic condition which causes a psychological effect.

What is one weakness of the biological approach? ›

One weakness of the biological approach is that it is nomothetic. This is a weakness because it develops theories about disorders and generalizes them to apply to everyone. It does not take into account the view that humans are unique.

Which personality theory is most accurate? ›

Another personality theory, called the Five Factor Model, effectively hits a middle ground, with its five factors referred to as the Big Five personality traits. It is the most popular theory in personality psychology today and the most accurate approximation of the basic trait dimensions (Funder, 2001).

What are the 4 types of personalities? ›

A study published in Nature Human Behaviour reveals that there are four personality types — average, reserved, role-model and self-centered — and these findings might change the thinking about personality in general.

What is Eysenck's personality theory called? ›

The PEN model is a biological theory of personality developed by influential psychologist Hans Eysenck (1916-1997). The model focusses on three broad personality factors: psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism (PEN).

What are the 3 major dimensions of Eysenck's theory? ›

Eysenck's personality theory (1967, 1997) describes three broad personality factors. These are: extraversion–introversion. neuroticism–ego–stability.

Is the Eysenck Personality Inventory reliable? ›

The findings revealed that the EPQ-BV has good internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and concurrent validity. A principal component analysis revealed a solution with factor loadings that accurately reflected the primary measures of the EPQR-S.

Is personality more nature or nurture? ›

Overall, genetics has more influence than do parents on shaping our personality. Molecular genetics is the study of which genes are associated with which personality traits. The largely unknown environmental influences, known as the nonshared environmental effects, have the largest impact on personality.

How is one's biological process related to understanding behavior and personality? ›

The biological approach believes behavior to be as a consequence of our genetics and physiology. It is the only approach in psychology that examines thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from a biological and thus physical point of view. Therefore, all that is psychological is first physiological.

Does a person's environment affect their personality? ›

It is true that environmental influences, including parenting, affect personality. Based on genetic data, researchers have concluded that environment accounts for approximately 50 to 70 percent of personality.

Videos

1. GCSE Psychology: Criminal behaviour: Biological theory
(Wendy Garnham)
2. The Biological Approach to Psychology
(Freeology Revision)
3. Psychological Perspectives Video
(Prof Newton)
4. Eysenck's Theory of Personality - Simplest Explanation Ever
(Mister Simplify)
5. 6 Theories of Personality in Psychology | Personality Traits
(Think The Thought)
6. Psychology: Understanding Personality: Biological Traits by Hans Eysenck
(Cher Mau)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Edmund Hettinger DC

Last Updated: 10/09/2022

Views: 5792

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Edmund Hettinger DC

Birthday: 1994-08-17

Address: 2033 Gerhold Pine, Port Jocelyn, VA 12101-5654

Phone: +8524399971620

Job: Central Manufacturing Supervisor

Hobby: Jogging, Metalworking, Tai chi, Shopping, Puzzles, Rock climbing, Crocheting

Introduction: My name is Edmund Hettinger DC, I am a adventurous, colorful, gifted, determined, precious, open, colorful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.