emotional sensitivity, nature or nurture?A recent article in National Geographic got me thinking about what traits are inborn and which personality characteristics are learned from our environment.

In the article, wild foxes were bred over several generations to be as human-friendly as dogs.

Are humans like foxes?  With the right combination of genes over a period of generation are we capable of drastic changes in our behavior and nature?  Is it genetics that cause some to struggle with addiction or engage in self-harming behavior? 

The nature vs. nurture debate has been an important and longstanding debate in psychology.  Nature is viewed as those qualities that are genetic, while nurture are those traits learned from past experiences.  One theory poses that we are born as blank slates, our personalities shaped entirely by our life experiences.  Others debate that personality it heritable, at least to a certain extent.

The treatment strategies and skills training used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy are based on a biosocial theory of personality functioning.  The central idea is that people with difficulties with controlling emotions, depression and self-destructiveness, aggression, attention, dual diagnosis, and other impulse behaviors often have problems with their emotion regulation system.  These emotional problems are a result of both biological makeup and past experiences.

Like the foxes, some of whom were born with a genetic predisposition to be friendly, humans are also born with certain genetic predispositions.  Some people are born with a predisposition to be more emotional than others.  These people are more likely to have an emotional reaction to a small event, to have intense emotional reactions and to have long lasting emotional reactions.

In DBT, the early environment (nurture) is considered to interact with a child’s inborn personality.  Children learn about themselves through parental attention to changes in their behavior and correct labeling of what the behavior represents.

For example, irritability can be caused by many things, such as fatigue or hunger.  Correct identification and labeling of behavior and its causes increases a child’s ability to identify and report on their own internal state.  Incorrect labeling or no labeling at all leaves a child without a basic understanding of his or her own internal emotional states.

When a child’s emotional pain is incorrectly attributed to lack of motivation, lack of discipline or not trying hard enough, exacerbates the child becomes more emotionally vulnerable and dysregulated.

What do you believe?  If you are emotionally vulnerable, is it inborn, learned from your environment or a combination of the two?  Use the comments section below.

Photo by Steve and Shanon Lawson, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.



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    Last reviewed: 8 Mar 2011

APA Reference
Matta, C. (2011). Is Your Emotional Sensitivity Nature or Nurture?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/dbt/2011/03/is-your-emotional-sensitivity-nature-or-nurture/



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  • Irish dela Trinidad: Extreme emotions it comes out naturally, but as a human we need to control our emotions, because...
  • Jean: extreme emOtions is dIfFicuLt to handle.why?Because theres a p0ssibility s0me thIngs becAme w0rSt and it can...
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  • eugene: Well done! Good articulations and suggestions how to observe thoughts. Very encouraging, too.
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