The fact remains that some features of our nature do have an innate component. Intelligence and personality traits are according to various studies, between 40 and 70 percent inherited. Your ideology may cause you to stick to 40, while some may swear by 70. Many may deny this exists. Some would like to believe that human nature is infinitely malleable, like play dough. But this may not be correct. But I would like to feel that I can change- to an extent.
I don’t know about you, but I have the distinct impression that I am getting better with time. I am not getting any younger. Some hair is gone. I imagine myself to be strong and flexible, but there is a definite decline from what I was in my twenties.
I am not talking about all that.
I feel settled and mature. Bad things don’t throw me into pangs of anxiety or into the pits of depression, as it did before. I have become more outgoing, and I remember being quite introverted as a kid. I have a strong feeling that I am now a more likable person. (I hope many of my friends and family don’t read this!).
Robert Viechtbaur in 2006 analyzed 92 studies done till then about personality changes over time, in a meta-analysis. He found that most people became more confident, warm, and emotionally stable over time. Most became more likable to other people. Very extroverted became slightly more reflective, while the introverted became more outgoing. That is, regarding introversion and extroversion, people drifted to the middle of the spectrum.
There are, to me, two interesting aspects to this phenomenon. One is that most of the changes happen during 20 to 40 years of age, though they occur older also. This seems to be an important period. This is against the idea that personality traits are totally fixed by young adulthood. Drastic changes are perhaps rare, but change is possible throughout life, even in such strongly genetically determined trait like personality. Second is that this is not just a spontaneous change, but looks as if it is related to life events. Persons engaged in theft, crime and a life of despair seems to have deleterious effects on one’s personality. This suggests that purposeful changes are possible.
Carol S Dweck from Stanford in 2008, in an article, examined the power of belief. Beliefs are an important character of a person. He asserts that beliefs lie at the heart of personality and adaptive functioning. Personal goals, strivings and beliefs are powerful instruments that can drive change. He states that people who believe that their traits are changeable are more open to listen, willing to confront challenges, persists in difficult tasks, and bounces back from failures easily. Look at this study:
Lisa Blackwell of Columbia University did a study on 700 school students. She divided them into two groups. One group was coached on study methods for eight sessions. The other group, she gave the same eight sessions on study methods, and two hours of something else. Then the academic performance of the students was followed up for a period of six months. The group who got the extra ‘something’ performed significantly better than the other group, including in maths, a problem area for many students. What was this extra something that had such a magical and prolonged effect?
Just two hours of lectures, graphic presentations, and role-play study on how intelligence is not innate. They were shown pictures of neurons sprouting new axons, and works and exercises that show how one can boost one’s ‘smarts’. Actually, intelligence does have a significant innate component. That was not mentioned.
In fact, praise for innate qualities like intelligence makes kids prone to avoid challenges and decreases effort. Praise for effort makes them eager to learn and perform better.
Research seems to prove that there is power in belief. We had better believe that we can improve ourselves. Otherwise we are doomed.
Does that mean that anyone can achieve anything? That we should push kids (and ourselves) to the limit- or beyond it? What are the limits? Where will we draw the line? Like so much in Psychology, we need to leave many questions hanging in the air. Or we can use our own common sense.