It never ceases to amaze me how often a certain wisdom has been known for a long time and then, Hey Presto!, along comes a scientific discovery that proves something we have known for a long time.
Two articles in the New Zealand Herald have caught my eye over the past few weeks.
The first was entitled “Personality decided at birth, say scientists”. I am assuming that a more realistic headline that would have been too long for the space provided, would have read, “Personality decided at conception, say scientists”.
Any parent who has more than one child has wondered, “How come my children have the same parents, much the same upbringing, eat much the same food, do much the same activities – and are so amazingly different?”
We are not the first people to wonder. Two thousand years ago, Hippocrates, a Greek physician, (370BC) had already talked extensively about the four personalities as Choleric (Control-seeking), Sanguine (Fun-seeking), Phlegmatic (Peace-seeking) and Melancholic (Perfection-seeking). The terms in brackets are those used by Florence Littauer whose work has inspired a lot of what I understand today about Personalities.
Hippocrates
Choleric
Sanguine
 Melancholic
Phlegmatic
Florence Littauer
Control-seeking
Fun-seeking
Peace-seeking
Perfection-seeking
Many theories of personalities seem to come up with four groups.
 
Control
Fun
Peace
Perfection
Plato (340BC)
Guardian
Artisan
Philosopher
Scientist
Sprangler (1930)
Religious
Aesthetic
Theoretic
Economic
Geier
Dominance
Influence
Competence
Steadiness
Merrill-Reid
Driver
Expressive
Amiable
Analytical
Western Astrology
Fire
Air
Water
Earth
 There are also the “fun” ones:
Control
Fun
Peace
Perfection
Colours
Red
Yellow
Blue
Green
Birds
Eagle
Peacock
Dove
Owl
Animals
Bear
Monkey
Dolphin
Owl
Children’s Literature
Rabbit
Tigger
Pooh
Eeyore
Charlie Brown Characters
Lucy
Snoopy
Charlie Brown
Linus
Who Moved My Cheese?
Sniff
Scurry
Haw
Hem
And now, the article tells us, a study is to be published in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, showing that Personality types are linked with structural differences in the brain. If the findings are confirmed by other scientists, they suggest that children, not only are born with a given personality type, but that they develop anatomically different brains as a result of being that sort of person.
The Four Personality Types, according to their brain structure were:
1. “Reward dependence” – with an addictive personality and
2. “Novelty seeking” – characterised by impulsive actions
3. “Harm avoidance” – marked by pessimism and shyness
4. “Persistence” – people who tend to be industrious, hardworking and perfectionist.
The brain differences are structural and can be measured as variations of the size of specific regions of the brain that appear to be linked with each of the four personality types. For example: (i) Novelty seeking personalities have a structurally bigger area of the brain above the eye-sockets, known as the inferior part of the frontal lobe; and (ii) People with “Harm avoidance” personalities have significantly smaller volume of tissue in the orbito-frontal and posterior occipital region.
How amazing, but not surprising, that neurological science has shown what we have long-suspected.
Does that mean we are off the hook? Does that mean we are no longer to blame for how our children turn out? Is it just their genes? Or, as this article would suggest – Is it just their brain structure?
No such luck. As Professor Venneri, who carried out the study with colleagues from the University of Parma in Italy and Washington University in St Louis, said, “This study shows that personality traits are something that you are born with, but their full expression can be modulated during their development with the right approach.
In other words, it’s back to Nature and Nurture. The baby we give birth to has inborn personality traits and it is up to us to understand and value who they are and then help them to positively adapt to the family and society in which they live.
Interestingly, in 11 May 2009, also in the New Zealand Herald, there is an article entitled “Debt personalities revealed student borrower poll”. As part of his post-graduate honours research, Joseph Barnoa, in our very own Canterbury University, canvassed university students’ attitude to debt and found (Are we surprised?) they fitted four personality categories:
1. “Life indebted” paid the minimum amount possible off their student debt and tended to live beyond their means.
2. “Traditionalists” were financially responsible and believed that student debt had given them a leg up toward their career.
3. “Entrepreneurs” knew how to get money to work for them and chose to leave their loans while investing elsewhere.
4. “Expedient payers” dramatically increased their payments so they could pay off their student loans quickly.
Mr Barnoa said that the research showed how people would deal with debt beyond university.
I do believe that how our children will handle their responsibilities (including how they will handle money) once they leave home is also a combination of Nature and Nurture. How we handle chores and pocket money are two ways in which we can influence our children’s eventual responsibility for managing their adult, independent living.
The issues of chores and pocket money and whether there should be linkage between the two have always vexed parents. Vernon and I tried many and varied ways of dealing with both. Next month, I will share with you the rare ones that worked – for quite a while, anyway!

Article Personality – Nature versus Nurture written by Diane Levy

 

 

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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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I was just going to send this to a friend and wondered if the headings above are around the wrong way. From reading Diane’s book, I thought the Phlegmatic was the peace-seeking however above it says Melancholic is peace-seeking. Can you confirm please? Thank you

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