Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Is your destiny written in your DNA?

Has everyone received his or her copy of June’s UTNE Reader? Great. We’re all on the same page then. And if not, you can get on said page here.

So, what did you think of the article “The Nature of Nurture?”

To recap, in that article the author discusses the “effects of maternal stress on childhood development.” Well, that certainly caught my eye due to the subject matter of JANEOLOGY in which the nature and nurture of one Jane Nelson are explored going back four generations on both sides of her family until a full picture of her genetic inheritance and family traditions emerges. All of this, of course, is explored in an attempt to answer the question – Why did Jane do what she did? Intrigued? (Read the first chapter at

The Utne Reader article features a neuroscientist’s experiment with mother rats to illustrate what anxious nurturing versus calm nurturing can do to a child. Will a child absorb the tendencies of her mother?

From the article

As a graduate student, Francis conducted an experiment in which she swapped pups between a litter of rats bred for calmness and another that was predisposed to anxiety. The genetically calm mothers tended to be better nurturers, licking and grooming their pups more than the anxious mothers did. But when a calm, nurturing mother raised the genetically anxious pup added to her brood, the adoptee switched tendencies. The anxious rat behaved calmly throughout life, performed better in cognitive tests, and was more willing to explore new environments. The calm mother’s behavior, Francis discovered, had caused permanent changes in the operations of the anxious rat’s genes. Even more stunning: The acquired traits—calmness and nurturing habits—were passed on to the anxious rat’s next generation.

In the question of nature versus nurture, we’ve embraced the view that our fates are written in genetic code. The news in recent years has been filled with reports about the isolation of genes said to “cause” everything from diabetes to voter turnout. Increasingly, though, researchers are finding that genes don’t tell the whole story.

Genes don’t tell the whole story, do they? The influence and social relationships in one’s environment has such a profound impact on each individual. This is probably the reason my siblings and I would all report a different childhood experience to you.

So, what do you think about all of this? How do you think an anxious or calm mother impacts one's personality?



sgreerpitt said...

One of my professors in graduate school, many decades ago, had a saying that "every child has different parents." Meaning that even in families, and even with twins, the interaction between parent and child is never identical. Where the child is in the birth order, when the child comes along in the parent's own life cycle and experience, or in the families social and economic evolution all has some impact, that interacts (as the UTNE article suggests) with the biological inheritance of the child.

Back in the 1970's there was a series of systematic studies of parent/child interaction in the first hours and days of life, that was able to demonstrate tiny, subtle, but important differences in the manner in which parents of boys and girls treated their children. I've long since lost the references, but the PBS series NOVA summarized the studies nicely in a early 80's program "The Pinks and the Blues."

Karen Harrington said...


I think I've seen that PBS documentary too.

And I agree. Every child DOES have different parents. Wouldn't that be a great book title?