What forces shape our personalities?




Perhaps you feel like you are different from your acquaintances? That you behave differently to others? Feel like you think about things differently? Do your friends and family see you as consistent and predictable, where you usually behave in a similar way?


We all have different personalities, we are all different individuals who have a different set of characteristics who will respond to different situations in their own unique way. People interpret circumstances differently based on their past experiences and personality traits. Behaviour is largely based on a few predetermined factors: genes, character, upbringing and personality traits.





You can think of personality as being pretty straightforward in some regards, humans are all somewhat the same, we prefer pleasure to pain, we seek meaning in our lives, we crave social interaction and we judge our behaviour by societal norms. Humans can be linked through such similarities, they are traits that we all share regardless of who we are and where we come from.


Beyond that, personalities are not only unique to the individual but are also known as the psychology of individual differences. Fun Fact:: Not even identical twins are exactly alike in terms of their personalities.


It helps us to understand what makes us think, feel and act differently from others in the same situation? Why is this important? Dealing with people is something that all of us have to do on a daily basis, we have to understand how the people around us will react to a certain stimulus. This is none truer than in the corporate world, where we need to understand how our colleagues, subordinates and superiors behave.


Essentially, personality is what makes us human and what distinguishes us from everyone else. They are our individual unique patterns of motives, emotions and perceptions. Personality is shaped by the combined forces of biological, situational and mental process-all embedded in a sociocultural and developmental context


Nature vs Nurture?


There has been a long-standing debate amongst psychologists over which has been more important, Nature or Nurture in shaping an individual. Research actually shows that heredity accounts for only roughly half our characteristics. So what actually makes the most difference? Personality theorists believe for that to be early childhood experiences.


Thus, they believe that your personality is largely shaped by your parents, not just because of the biological factors (genes) but also as a result of the environment they provided for you.


On the other hand, nature still plays a 50% role in the shaping of our personalities. The genes that we have may predispose us to be more likely to behave in a certain manner.


For example, a child whose parents both have schizophrenia, a largely genetically based mental disorder, is likely also to develop schizophrenia only 50 percent of the time. Our genes provide us with a biological baseline from which our environment works in conjunction to form our personality.



Social-cultural factors


People from different cultures are likely to display different personalities that are in line with what is deemed acceptable. Asian cultures emphasises collectivism and thus people tend to be more conforming to the group. Culture greatly shapes personality. Western cultures tend to favour individualism where they celebrate individual talents and reward them for being better than the rest. These are all factors that help to determine one's personality.


Differences in working cultures?


This is also part of the reason why expatriates working in foreign countries where the culture is dissimilar to what they were accustomed to may experience a culture shock. Thus, it is almost always difficult for them to assimilate in the working culture without a learning curve.


This reminds me of a relatable anecdote that I came across some time back, where Singaporean actress Sharon Au shared her experiences of working life in France where she sent an email to a colleague after working hours and was reported to HR immediately.


Now, this may seem like a perfectly common thing especially in Asian cultures, but in France, there are actually labour laws that state employees should not be contacted after working hours. Because of the incident, her colleagues were under the impression that she did not have other non-work interests to pursue and actually gave her movie tickets in an attempt to curb her perceived boredom.


Sharon's personality of conscientiousness and vigour is likely to have been shaped by her upbringing in Singapore where efficiency is prioritised. In her eyes, she was just doing her job by ensuring that things were in order for the following work day.


However, this was negatively interpreted by her French counterparts, which is interesting because the same act would likely have been applauded or normalised in Singapore.


Isn't it amazing how seemingly harmless acts can be interpreted so differently depending on where you are?






Personality is a byproduct of your environment and biological factors. There are many factors at play that shape us into unique individuals. However, it is important to bear in mind that we do share characteristics that make us humans, that no matter how different we are, we will always share this same feature with each other. And that, is arguably the best way to understand human behaviour.

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