social sciences

Personality: genetic factors?

Using methods such as twin studies, we can infer that personality is, at least partially, genetically determined. There is, however, also an environmental component, which is also imperative to personality formation. In these studies, the Big Five personality test is often used to look at how it develops over time.

Big Five personality traits
Using twin studies, researchers have found that there seems to be a genetic component to personality traits (Jang, Livesley, & Vemon, 1996). Twin studies are often used to study the effects of genes, identical twins and fraternal are then compared on these traits. One of the most used personality factor models is the Big Five, the five traits are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Instability and extraversion
Another group of researchers also looked at twin studies to find out what the genetic component is of psychosocial instability and psychosocial extraversion. They found that half of the variation in these traits could be explained by genetics (Floderus-Myrhed,  Pedersen,  & Rasmuson, 1980). Simply put,  the other half might be explained by environmental factors. So personality is partially shaped by the situations we go through in life.

Personality disorders
However, apart from regular personality traits, one can also study personality disorders. These are detrimental as they affect behavior or thinking processes in a negative manner. Which means it can influence daily functioning for an individual. These types of disorders have also found to be heritable, though most of the variance can be attributed to environmental factors (Jang,  Livesley, Vernon,  & Jackson, 1996).

Anxiety/social phobia
It has been found that fear of negative evaluation, which is one of the characteristics of anxiety or social phobia have genetic influences as well (Stein, Jang, & Livesley, 2002).

Job satisfaction
Another team of researchers looked at the genetic components that influence job satisfaction. They used the aforementioned five factor model of personality and the positive affectivity–negative affectivity personality test. The positive affectivity–negative affectivity assess what type of emotions (negative or positive) respondents tend to experience. Using these two tests, they found that both of these constructs determined job satisfaction.  The positive affectivity–negative affectivity construct explained most of the variance in job satisfaction (Ilies, & Judge, 2003).

Floderus-Myrhed, B., Pedersen, N., & Rasmuson, I. (1980). Assessment of heritability for personality, based on a short-form of the Eysenck Personality Inventory: A study of 12,898 twin pairs. Behavior genetics10(2), 153-162.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., & Vemon, P. A. (1996). Heritability of the big five personality dimensions and their facets: a twin study. Journal of personality, 64(3), 577-592.

Jang, K. L., Livesley, W. J., Vernon, P. A., & Jackson, D. N. (1996). Heritability of personality disorder traits: a twin study. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica94(6), 438-444.

Ilies, R., & Judge, T. A. (2003). On the heritability of job satisfaction: The mediating role of personality. Journal of Applied psychology88(4), 750.

Stein, M. B., Jang, K. L., & Livesley, W. J. (2002). Heritability of social anxiety-related concerns and personality characteristics: a twin study. The Journal of nervous and mental disease190(4), 219-224.

social sciences

How to deal with your anxiety

I have noticed that everyone experiences anxiety at one point in their lives. Whether it’s due to insecurity, pessimism or overall apathy. It could be caused by current events happening in your life or it might be linked to your disposition. If you can’t remember a time when you weren’t anxious or it influences your daily life, it might be time to do something about it. In this case, it would be a good idea to look for professional help. However, your anxiety could refrain you from taking this step. It is important to know that you can’t fix or deal with everything on your own! Mental problems are as serious as physical ones, and they are often related.

There could be different reasons for your anxiety, it could be that you’re about to do something important (such as a test), or your workload is too much to handle, anything changing the status quo (e.g. a divorce, being laid off, losing a loved one) you might be faced with insecurities that are hard to deal with. It is also entirely possible that you can’t even pinpoint what is causing you to feel anxious.

Here are important things to remember / strategies you could try to make your anxiety more bearable:

  1. Validate your feelings. It’s imperative to know that it’s entirely okay to feel anxious. Trying to suppress emotions can make you feel worse. You could even end up feeling anxious about feeling anxious. Therefore, acknowledge you feel this emotion.
  2. Take a small break. If it’s possible to do so, try to refrain from what is making you feel this way.  Though, in settings in which you need to participate to function in your daily life, make sure you do not refrain completely. Completely ignoring such settings will only make your situation worse (point 4). Taking a break is good for evaluating the situation and changing your thoughts and ideas, which could help you feel in control. In order to do so, you could use point 3.
  3. Engage in some cognitive behavioral therapy. This method will force you to change your thinking patterns by putting things in perspective. Take a look at this form. Go ahead and print it out if you want to practice.
    1. First, describe a situation which left you feeling anxious.
    2. Second, describe this feeling. How strong was it? Was it a mental feeling? Did you experience anything physical along with it? How would your rate it on a scale from 1-100?
    3. Third, describe the thoughts that were going through your head during that situations. Did it make the situation worse?
    4. Fourth, let’s fact check these thoughts. Are they true? Did they make sense in this situation?
    5. Fifth, come up with counterarguments for these thoughts. What evidence could indicate that you might be wrong?
    6. Sixth, combine both arguments into an alternative thought.
    7. Seventh, did the alternative thought change your feeling about the situation? Again, rate your emotions on a scale from 1-100. (I have provided an example at the bottom of this post).
  4. Don’t completely avoid situations that elicit anxiety if you need to engage in them in your daily life. If you’re dealing with social anxiety, it wouldn’t be a good idea to hide away at home and not participate in daily life. Also, we know that mere exposure can help people overcome fear. When someone stops interacting with settings that seem fearful to them, their anxiety will only become worse. People need to be regularly exposed to learn that the situation is not scary. Our psyche is incredible at forming associations. For instance, eating bad Chinese food once could make us not want to eat Chinese food ever again.
  5. If it won’t matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes on it. This is important to remember to put your situation into perspective. Think about all the small encounters you had in the past that had zero influence on where you are now. This applies to what is going on now as well. Many things we experience today will not mean the end of the world tomorrow. If you’ve been walking around on Earth for a couple of years, you already overcame many hurdles, so I’m sure you can take on some more.

Again, I would like to emphasize, you could be dealing with serious problems that need a professional. Please, seek help if it affects your functioning in daily life. We can sit out a cold, most of the time, you probably won’t need your doctor for that. However, if your cold symptoms persist and severely affect your life, a visit to the doctor would be a good idea. This is also applicable in terms of mental health.

Example using the cognitive behavioral therapy form, test anxiety:
A: When taking a test I started feeling very anxious and I blacked out. I suddenly couldn’t remember anything I had studied.
B: I felt very anxious, my heart was beating fast, and I started to get nervous. I would rate it an 80.
C: I thought it would never be able to pass this test, I’m never going to get my degree, I’m a failure.
D: Well, I suddenly couldn’t remember the answers. But I did study really heard.
E: I passed many of my other tests, so I guess this one shouldn’t be out of reach either. I studied for weeks, so maybe if I was calm I would’ve been able to answer all the questions.
F: I should be able to pass this test, it isn’t more difficult than any of the other tests I already passed. I did study, so I can pass it if it wasn’t for blacking out.
G: I feel less anxious after putting this situation into perspective. I feel a bit more confident for my resit. I would rate my anxiety about 50 now.