I’ve been reading about mindset in a curious way. It goes back to an old discussion in philosophy class many years ago. Do we have free will? Or are we “pre-determined” to do things.
A review of the literature demonstrates that the genetic component in certain personality disorders (mainly the Antisocial and Schizotypal) is strong (Thapar and McGuffin, 1993). Nigg and Goldsmith found a connection in 1993 between the Schizoid and Paranoid personality disorders and schizophrenia. The three authors of the Dimensional Assessment of Personality Pathology (Livesley, Jackson, and Schroeder) joined forces with Jang in 1993 to study whether 18 of the personality dimensions were heritable.
They found that 40 to 60% of the recurrence of certain personality traits across generations can be explained by heredity: anxiousness, callousness, cognitive distortion, compulsivity, identity problems, oppositionality, rejection, restricted expression, social avoidance, stimulus seeking, and suspiciousness. Each and every one of these qualities is associated with a personality disorder. In a roundabout way, therefore, this study supports the hypothesis that personality disorders are hereditary. This would go a long way towards explaining why in the same family, with the same set of parents and an identical emotional environment, some siblings grow to have personality disorders, while others are perfectly “normal”. Surely, this indicates a genetic predisposition of some people to developing personality disorders.
That doesn’t mean we’re pre-determined to be a certain way or do things a certain way. Our brain – a physical object – is the residence of mental health and its disorders. Mental illness cannot be explained without resorting to the body and, especially, to the brain. Our genetic makeup makes us resemble a personal computer. We are an all-purpose, universal, machine. Subject to the right programming (conditioning, socialization, education, upbringing) – we can turn out to be anything and everything. A computer can imitate any other kind of discrete machine, given the right software. It can play music, screen movies, calculate, print, paint. Compare this to a television set – it is constructed and expected to do one, and only one, thing. It has a single purpose and a unitary function. We, humans, are more like computers than like television sets.
According to the research, single genes rarely account for any behavior or trait. An array of coordinated genes is required to explain even the minutest human activity. Yet, it would seem that even complex behaviors such as risk taking, reckless driving, and compulsive shopping have genetic underpinnings.”Read MoreLiveslye, W.J., Jank, K.L., Jackson, B.N., Vernon, P.A.. 1993. Genetic and environmental contributions to dimensions of personality disorders. Am. J. Psychiatry. 150(O12):1826-31.
What does all this mean for personal responsibility and mindset?
It appears that we are more than the sum of our genes. We can make choices. Sometimes those choices aren’t to our liking or to our benefit. But we must be responsible for the consequences of those actions. One way or another. It’s not good enough to say, “oh well, that’s the way I am” as an excuse to avoid the responsibility for our actions.
I’m looking at my actions in a different light now. I hope you do too.