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Determining Personalities: Genetics or Environment

aybala50's picture

Every person on this planet has a personality that hasdeveloped over the course of his or her life. There have been a numerous numberof explanations as to why people behave in the way they do. The majorreasoning’s given for the development of personalities is either genetics orenvironment. Why do we have the personalities we do? Is it because of theparents that we have, or is it because of the environment we grow up in? Thenovel We Need to Talk About Kevin isa great work that shows the debate between the argument for genetics and theargument for environment.             Themovie made out of the novel The Bad Seedshows a firm belief that future personality such as psychopathy is determinedby genetics alone.

            We Need to Talk About Kevin is a novelabout a boy, Kevin, who at a young age starts a shooting at his school. Thenarrator of the novel is Eva, Kevin’s mother. Throughout the novel the readeris presented with Kevin’s life, through the eyes of Eva, from birth until afterthe shootings when Kevin is now older and still in prison. The novel is a goodportrayal of the debate between the causes of the development of personalitybecause Eva goes back and forth trying to figure out whether Kevin’s behavioris her own fault or not.

            Evais married to a man that has a view of an ideal family, which includes theperfect wife and children, all living in the white picket-fenced house. Eva ispressured by her husband to get pregnant, though she has no interest in havingchildren at the time. In turn Eva gives birth to Kevin, who from the start is avery difficult child. Even as a very young baby Kevin cried a lot andoverwhelmed Eva who as at work all day and was too tired to deal with a cryingbaby when she got home. While Kevin was growing up, Eva let it slip a few timesthat she hates Kevin. Though it is reasonable to argue that Kevin would nothave understood what these words meant as a baby, it is just as reasonable toargue that at such a young age Kevin would have picked up on all bodily signalsthat Eva was giving him. When Eva was telling Kevin that she hated him, Kevincould have picked up the negative energy and attitude Eva was giving him. Thiscould be a factor that could affect Kevin’s later behavior and support theenvironmental effects of future personality.

            BeforeKevin goes to his school to shoot his fellow students amongst others, he killshis father and his little sister. As a very young psychopath, Kevin plans outevery action he takes that day. He uses a bow and arrow as his murder weaponsand he targets specific people. However, he lets his mother live. This couldshow that he recognized that Eva was not a good mother to him and he wanted herto feel guilty for his actions. By letting Eva live, Kevin was finally gettingrevenge for being treated like a terrible child starting at an age that was tooyoung. Eva was a bad mother and she knows this. She accepts that her treatmentof Kevin was too harsh even though Kevin was a difficult child. Yet, she isstill contemplating whether the shooting was her fault or whether it was allKevin’s fault. If it is Kevin’s fault, she is blaming genetics, not theenvironment.

            Thereare a lot of children in this world who grow up in worse homes than Kevin didwith not only one bad parent but also bad parents and other negative factors.Kevin had a bad mother, but a caring father and a caring school. Why did heturn into a psychopath that killed? This is why Eva is contemplating whether itis all her fault. While so many children end up as saints after having a badchildhood, Kevin killed at a young age. Not only this novel, but also evidencefrom the real world suggests that simply having a bad childhood cannot be theonly reason for becoming a psychopath.

            InThe Bad Seed, similar to what Eva isdoing, the mother of an 8 year-old-girl is contemplating whether her daughtercan be evil. The problem in this story line is that there are deaths, butfinding a reason for the deaths seems to be difficult. As her mother suspectsRhoda of murders even more, the possibility of adoption is becoming morelikely. There is no question that Rhoda and her mother are genetically related.However, once Rhoda’s mother suspects Rhoda of murder, she suspects that she, herself,could be adopted. The movie later reveals that Rhoda’s mother is the daughterof a very well known psychopathic killer. This news devastates Rhoda’s motherand she is convinced that Rhoda is a murderer. Hence unlike in the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, in themovie The Bad Seed, psychopathy is asure result of genetics. Only psychopaths can pass down the gene forpsychopathic personalities.

            Itis difficult to conclude one way or another as to what causes a person to havea certain personality trait such as psychopathy. As seen in both the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin and themovie The Bad Seed there is no singleconclusion about this problem. It is possible and seems likely that there is nosingle reason as to why we develop the personalities we have. Our brain learnsfrom the environment that surrounds us, but it is also influenced by thegenetics passed down to us by our ancestors. We are very much influenced by ourgenetics and very much influenced by our environment, but they go together.Without the other, it is true that they would be the only influence thatdetermines a personality, but in reality they work together. A person’sgenetics are set and they influence a person’s personality. The conveniencewith a person’s environment is that it can be changed, unlike genetics. Thewhole process, however, is about luck. Luck determines the genes a person endsup with and it also determines the environment a person is placed in.


Work Cited

Mervyn LeRoy. The BadSeed. VHS. 1956.

Shriver, Lionel. WeNeed to Talk About Kevin. CounterPoint Press. 2005.



Paul Grobstein's picture

genes, environment, and ...

"Our brain learns from the environment that surrounds us, but it is also influenced by the genetics passed down to us by our ancestors."

And potentially, by our own choices as well?