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A Discussion of “The Identity Dance” Essay

In the article “The Identity Dance,” Gunjan Sinha (2004) refutes the idea that genes are solely responsible for identity and proposes that personalities are shaped by a combination of genes and life experience (pp. 1-4). Sinha uses the practical example of identical twins and relies on research studies to support the argument that personality is formed by “nature and nurture” rather than primarily “nature” alone. According to Sinha, several factors have led scientists and the general public to come to the conclusion that DNA or “nature” is responsible for everything from hair color to personality traits.

One factor has to do with historical events and popular cultural. Sinha notes that one reason “nurture” theories became popular in the 1960s and 1970s was due to reaction against the horrific consequences of Nazi Germany’s strict “nature” eugenics theories (p. 2). Then in the 1990s came a shift back to the “nature” theory, as new technology made it possible for scientists to identify more and more traits associated with genes. In terms of society, this extended to an argument that minimized the influence of the environment on identity and personality.

“The Identity Dance” points out that while it can be helpful to identify genes associated with birth defects and certain diseases, DNA can’t be considered the sole determinant when it comes to personality traits and mental disorders or diseases. While it’s possible to identify genes associated with such traits as aggression and depression, research indicates “nurture” is a deciding factor when it comes to the trait’s expression. Sinha cites research done in the 1990s by Stephen Suomi and Dee Higley and in Germany, Klaus-Peter Lesch to demonstrate that the expression of personality and identity traits depends on both nature and nurture.

Lesch was able to identify the gene responsible for transporting serotonin, and determined that different versions of the gene were associated with anxiety disorders in people. Stephen Suomi and Dee Higley were able to demonstrate that simply having the “short” version of the serotonin transporter gene wasn’t a guarantee it would be expressed. In Stephen Suomi and Dee Higley’s research, monkeys with either the long or short version of the serotonin gene were raised either by their mothers in normal family settings, or they were separated as infants and raised in a nursery setting with other monkeys of the same age.

In monkeys with the short version of the gene, those raised by their mothers didn’t express personality problems, while those raised in the nursery setting suffered from anxiety disorders and even alcoholism (p. 3). Clearly, the short gene predisposed the monkeys to certain personality traits, but it was their upbringing that determined whether or not these traits were expressed. The article also describes research on humans conducted by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi that demonstrates how life experiences determine the expression of traits associated with the serotonin gene.

After identifying their type of transport gene, Moffitt and Caspi interviewed subjects about traumatic life events they experienced as early adults. Their long term study clearly demonstrated it was a “…combination of hard knocks and short genes that more than doubled the risk of depression” (p. 4). Other research studying genes associated with antisocial behavior and “novelty seeking” has demonstrated that upbringing, life experiences and even the prenatal environment can act as determining factors when it comes to trait expression.

Based on this research and the fact that genetically identical twins can have opposite personalities, Gunjan Sinha concludes a combined “nature and nurture” theory is more accurate than emphasizing nature alone when it comes to identity and personality traits. Sinha sums up the implications of this “new science” as follows: “The knowledge that the traits we inherit are also contingent on what the world does to us promises more insight into why people act and feel differently—even when they look exactly the same” (p. 4).

Practically everyone wonders at some point or another why one child in the family turns out completely opposite from everyone else in terms of personality. In society, we wonder why the wealthy kid with a great upbringing and the best of everything turns to drugs and crime. The research Sinha cites in this article and the theory that a combination of experiences and environment result in the expression of personality traits addresses questions like these. Most importantly, this article points out there is no one single answer to how personality and identity are formed, as the emphasis is on a “combination” of nature and nurture.

People always seem to want simple answers that can lead to straightforward policies and rules. Too often, easy answers and policies based on them are disastrous, as in the case of the Holocaust. As Sinha points out, if it’s all in the genes, there’s little point trying to improve a child’s environment through better housing or improved education. “The Identity Dance” makes it clear that as technology advances, it’s important not to overlook what falls outside the scientific realm.

It may be possible to identify a gene for “genius,” but that doesn’t mean the genius will ever reach his or her full potential in terms of mental capabilities. Science needs to be balanced with a combined approach that looks at influences and factors that may be less obvious or easy to measure. I believe this is the best response our society can take to genetic advancements as well as other advances in scientific technology. References Sinha, G. (2004). “The Identity Dance. ” Psychology Today Magazine, Mar/Apr2004. Retrieved from http://www. psychologytoday. com/articles/index. php


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