April 15, 2009

"Personality decided at birth, say scientists"

That won't come as any surprise to anybody with more than one kid, but the relationship to brain anatomy is interesting. Steve Connor reports:

Personality types are linked with structural differences in the brain - which could explain why one child grows up to be impulsive and outgoing while another becomes diligent and introspective.

Anatomical differences between the brains of 85 people have been measured and linked with the four main categories of personality types as defined by psychiatrists using a clinically recognised system of character evaluation....

Brain scans that measure differences in volume down to an accuracy of less than one cubic millimetre found, for instance, that people defined as novelty-seeking personalities had a structurally bigger area of the brain above the eye sockets, known as the inferior part of the frontal lobe.

If this holds up (and I'm singularly unable to judge -- owing to my lack of 3-d processing power, I never been able to make head nor tail of any article referring to a region in the brain. No doubt my brain region that contributes to 3-d thinking is vanishingly small.)

I’ve long felt we are programmed by evolution to have kids with different personalities as a form of what financial economists like Edward M. Miller call “portfolio diversity:” you don’t want to put all your assets into one basket, such as mortgage backed securities. For example, Genghis Khan’s aggressive personality worked out fine from a Darwinian standpoint (his personal genetic signature appears in a huge number of people across a giant swath of Eurasia), but it probably got lots of other guys with similar personalities killed early. So, you wouldn’t want to have three sons each with Genghis Khan’s personality. They'd just end up skewering each other.

But my more scientist friends roll their eyes when I advocate portfolio diversity and say that’s “group selectionism,” which has been thoroughly exploded.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

47 comments:

Jeff Burton said...

So, my takeaway is phrenology was almost right.

John Derbyshire said...

"No one ever changes his character from the time he is two years old; nay, I might say, from the time he is two hours old … the character, the internal, original bias, remains always the same, true to itself to the very last … A temper sullen or active, shy or bold, grave or lively, selfish or romantic, … is manifest very early; and imperceptibly but irresistibly moulds our inclinations, habits, and pursuits through life. The greater or less degree of animal spirits … the disposition to be affected by objects near, or at a distance, or not at all, — to be struck with novelty, or to brood over deep-rooted impressions, — to indulge in laughter or in tears, the leaven of passion or of prudence that tempers this frail clay, is born with us and never quits us. … The accession of knowledge, the pressure of circumstances … does little more than minister occasion to the first predisposing bias …"

 — William Hazlitt, On Personal Character, 1821

John Craig said...

Can't wait for the day that all this is proven and the racial and gender disparities are well known and widely accepted as fact. Actually, I guess I'll have to wait since it won't be till after I'm dead, but some day.....

ben tillman said...

But my more scientist friends roll their eyes when I advocate portfolio diversity and say that’s “group selectionism,” which has been thoroughly exploded.God, they are confused. What you said has abdolutely nothing to do with group selection, and I can't imagine how they could think it did.

Moreover, of course, group selection was never exploded; it is a basic fact.

Anonymous said...

Although a rationalist would hate these words, but the central claim of the ancient art and science of astrology is that the fates and personalities of individuals are fixed at the moment of conception.

Anonymous said...

programmed by evolution? Is evolution intelligent? Does it explain EVERYTHING....people sure act like it does..
Anyway, this is nothing new, but what is done with the character or personality one has is another story

Jim Bowery said...

Your "more scientist friends" need extract their heads from wherever they reside and recall that sexuality is group selection via the meiotic lottery.

Caledonian said...

If by "almost right", you mean "wrong in almost every conceivable sense", then yes, yes it was.

Kevin said...

Just a funny thought: liberal tenet of all-inclusion as linked to having one child. If you don't have a 'diversified portfolio', you have a great incentive to prefer an all-inclusive ethos, which means a safer world for one's, possibly abortive, lonely flagship attempt to reproduce oneself by means of a single child. Incidental perhaps, but a funny thought, all the same.

josh said...

Steve,

Are you saying that within a family we evolved to have children with different personality types? I'm not sure that's possible with the possible exception of differences related to birth order. There could be reasons that women's wombs evolved to change environment with each child.

Of course within a population there will be lots of genetic variation for personality because there is diminishing returns to certain characteristics. This could show up within families often given the presumed complexity of genetic personality-affecting genes.

Peter said...

I don't see why that would be group selectionism - as stated, your argument is nothing to do with the benefits of the group. It seems more open to criticism for seeing selection as operating at the level of the individual rather than the gene.

Chief Seattle said...

The headline "Personality determined at birth" sounds so much more acceptable than "Personality determined by genetics". Remember that, all you race realists, the next time you find yourself in polite conversation.

Anonymous said...

Group selectionism has been exploded?

Lucius Vorenus said...

A little off-topic, but this story feels to me as though it might have the ring of truth to it:

Scientists Predict Marriage Failure from Family PhotosBy Elena Gorgan, Life & Style Editor
14th of April 2009, 18:35 GMT
news.softpedia.com...In order to confirm the findings of the study, the same researchers redid it, this time including photos taken as early as 5 years old in the comparison. Indeed, they have concluded, the intensity of the smile is directly related to the way a person’s marriage evolves...And even further off-topic, but I think that's probably the reason why Obama won so many votes from "moderates" in 2008 - with that big, infectious smile of his, people [to the extent that they ever even heard about it] just naturally assumed that all the bad stuff [Frank Marshall Davis, William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeremiah Wright, Edward Said, etc etc etc] could be overlooked.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why that would be group selectionism - as stated, your argument is nothing to do with the benefits of the group. It seems more open to criticism for seeing selection as operating at the level of the individual rather than the gene.I agree with Peter.

How does this involve group selection?

Guts Strongman said...

It's interesting that mentioned group selectionism. I assume you've read E.O. Wilson's latest, "The Superorganism," or at least some of the resultant kerfuffle?

Lucius Vorenus said...

BTW, this blogger.com/blogspot.com software package has recently developed a really irritating bug wherein the HTML parser cuts off the carriage returns [especially after italicized text].

obrien said...

The headline "Personality determined at birth" sounds so much more acceptable than "Personality determined by genetics". Remember that, all you race realists, the next time you find yourself in polite conversation.Good point. I think it also helps to put race realism in the context of realism more generally--presenting race realism as a single issue is almost sure to be a loser.

One must also take into account that one of the biggest problems wrt the race issue is literalism--"all men are created equal" has far more punch than "most men are created similarly;" "race does not exist" is far more powerful than "race is not clearly defined, and mostly matters on the level of large groups" [eg 40,000,000 Mestizos in the U.S. vs 40,000,000 East Asians]. Most people, and unfortunately a very large number of intelligent people who should know better, seem quite susceptible to taking things literally that people with triple-digit IQs have no business taking literally.

J.Goforth said...

That the personality is determined at birth is the central premise of Astrology.

A Natal Chart is drawn from the moment of the first breath.

I have found Natal Astrology to be the most highly effective method for discerning an individual's personality I have ever seen, and have been using it for over twenty years.

Anonymous said...

I have found Natal Astrology to be the most highly effective method for discerning an individual's personality I have ever seen, and have been using it for over twenty years.Can you suggest books or websites that draw up natal charts accurately and show us what the positions of the planets generally mean?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Phrenological conclusions like this one seem more likely to be conclusions rather than causes. The links between brain chemistry and IQ/personality are much better established with replicated research, than links between brain component size and IQ/personality. Perhaps greater use of these areas due to huge brain chemistry differences leads to these modest differences in brain component volume. Then again, some early brain volume studies have been contradicted during replication attempts.

Most dramatically, people who are missing a large percentage of brain tissue can sometimes operate with near average intelligence. Also, while brain size v. body size relationships are important predictors of IQ at the species level, the relationship is much weaker at the individual level.

Also importantly, brain components functions can be relocated if necessary and the need arises when the brain is sufficiently plastic. If you are blinded at an early age, for example, your brain can repurpose sight centers.

This happens at a species level too. There is strongly suggestive evidence that animals with color vision have managed to do so evolutionarily by turning over a large segment of the brain previously decided to smell processing to color processing. Evolutionarily closely related species with color vision have a much weaker sense of smell than their predecessors, and smell/color use similar brain components in typically brain mapped individuals of those species.

Of course, the other key point is that not all personality/mood traits are created equal. Schitzophrenia and subclinical personality traits similar to it, have an extremely high hereditary component.

In contrast, the hereditary links between depression and hereditary endowments are more complex. Some people are born to deal with stressful circumstances more easily than others. But, clinical depression usually flows from serious environmental stressors in addition to vulnerablity to those stressors. Someone with an uneventful life who was very vulnerable to stressors, might never have their personality impacted by that inheritance.

Anonymous said...

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins makes this same point about Gengis Khans and tied it together with game theory. Having different personality types creates a stable system, whereas a system with too much of any one type will create an opportunity for some other type to arise and take advantage.

clem said...

I have found Natal Astrology to be the most highly effective method for discerning an individual's personality I have ever seen, and have been using it for over twenty years.OMFG, you can't be serious.

You owe it to the people you may be inadvertently misleading to read through Robert Carroll's Skeptic's Dictionary from beginning to end. Pay particular attention to the entries on astrology and the Forer effect, as they cover all of the "effectiveness" you misattribute to astrology.

Then read Skeptical Inquirer at csicop.org. Read Skeptic magazine (archives). Read James Randi. Check out Susan Blackmore's transition from a paranormal-believing "sheep" into a skeptical "goat."

Because, you see, there is far less in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your superstitious "philosophy."

Reader said...

The explanation I would offer for personality variation is even more group selectionist than yours: societies with a broader range of personalities are better able to compete against societies where everyone's personality is more or less the same. Better specialization of labor. To me this is just obvious.

But anyway, hasn't group selection already made its way through the phases of ridicule and violent opposition and reached the end zone of being considered self-evident? I mean, even E.O. Wilson endorses it now...

James B. Shearer said...

But my more scientist friends roll their eyes when I advocate portfolio diversity and say that’s “group selectionism,” which has been thoroughly exploded. You don't need group selection to get diversity. You can get it for the same reason you get it in the economy. If too many people are say barbers being a barber becomes a bad business. If too many people have one personality type the others can become more valuable and be selected for. This is what keeps the sex ratio near one.

none of the above said...

Along with the chorus, I'll point out that what Steve described wouldn't need to involve group selection, though the later anonymous poster's theory would be group selection. A mechanism to keep your kids from conflict by pushing them into different strategies is no inherently less plausible than a mechanism to keep your kids from conflict by making them unwilling to harm their brothers, and it sure seems like people carrying a gene that made that mechanism work would have a fitness advantage.

A more interesting question, to me, is whether greater diversity in your kids has some other advantage. You could imagine that diversity having no fitness effect, but changing the shape of the distribution of possible numbers of offspring you'll have survive to adulthood. A gene making it very unlikely that none of your kids would survive seems like it would have an advantage in small populations, where a lot of genes are wiped out by neutral evolution over time.

Reg C├Žsar said...

Although a rationalist would hate these words, but the central claim of the ancient art and science of astrology is that the fates and personalities of individuals are fixed at the moment of conception. --anonymousAstrology was invented and developed by rationalists. Which is why everything rationalists say should be taken with a grain of sand.

Two fun essays to read: "Is Astrology Science?", in Steven Goldberg's When Wish Replaces Thought (his answer: yes-- very bad science); and Raymond Smullyan's playfully melding synchronicity with astrology in The Tao is Silent.

J.Goforth said...

Anon said: "Can you suggest books or websites that draw up natal charts accurately and show us what the positions of the planets generally mean?"

You can jump right into Astrology with two items and less than eight dollars.

Get precise free charts drawn using the information you enter at: www.astro.com (A very good Swiss site.)

Important: Try to find EXACT time of birth for creating a chart.

Next, obtain a copy of: "Astrology: A Cosmic Science", by Isabel M. Hickey.($4 used at amazon.com) A classic.

That's all you need for a fascinating new hobby.You can reach deep inside anyone and see what makes them tick.

Also any book by Robert Hand is worth reading.

Svigor said...

Moreover, of course, group selection was never exploded; it is a basic fact.Yeah, maybe I'm just not educated enough, but when I hear how group selection was "exploded," I think, "then WTF is speciation?"

Again, maybe it's like the whole "race vs. population group" thing, and I'm just not educated enough.

Lucius Vorenus said...

The astrology people on this thread are being facetious, right?

J. Goforth said...

Give Astrology a try before you judge, Lucius. A true thinking man leaves his mind open for new possibilites.

David Davenport said...

A true thinking man leaves his mind open for new possibilites.
And to swallow things like a fish biting a cheap shiny lure.

geo said...

For a free natal chart, http://www.alabe.com/freechart/

I've been studying this for years, and yes, it sort of predicts events and outcomes, and definitely describes a person or situation. However, there are so many geometric aspects among the planets (astrology is celestial geometry where the points and planets are assigned meanings) and countless variables to consider, not the least of which are environment, heredity and free will, that one should never take it too seriously, unless you are also highly intuitive, as some astrologers of my acquaintance have been.
As for "skeptics" such as Randi, et al., they are no more honestly skeptical about the paranormal than the author of the Measure of Man was open minded about racial differences. I knew Randi was not honest when I visited his website how his "skepticism" embraced such a wide and irrational variety of subjects. Political assasination conspiries do not belong in the same category as various paranmoral topics. Just about anything outside mainstream acceptance gets "debunked" by Randi. He's not a "skeptic", certainly not a truth seeker. He's a keeper of some pretty heavy gates though, and I'm not sure I want to know who he's working for.
I got the impression he blows hot air for money and attention. When one psychic accepted his million dollar challenge, Randi immediately changed the rules in such a way that the psychic would never be able to "prove" anything.
I once emailed Randi politely asking why he didn't take into consideration cerain things about the paranormal that were worth at least studying. I got back a kind of automatic message scripted to sound like Bart Simpson, or some other eternal 9 year old. Something to the effect of "you're stupid" or 'get a life.' This from a person who holds expensive seminars for VIPS who wish to combat superstition? I responded that he should have a more intelligent reply mechanism. The automatic email came back, "get a life."
This guy is a piece of work. I'd like to see his natal chart. It would explain a thing or two.

Anonymous said...

"The astrology people on this thread are being facetious, right?"

I'm with Lucius. Trade in your thousands of years of white crackpotism - the Jebu, the alchemy, the forced busing - for eugenics, sociobiology, and ethno-based history.

Anonymous said...

The astrology people on this thread are being facetious, right?Read and then judge for yourself:

http://cura.free.fr/articles.html

http://cura.free.fr/07athem1.html#1

http://cura.free.fr/18solsys.html

none of the above said...

Open and empty are two distinct states.

Truth said...

"Give Astrology a try before you judge, Lucius. A true thinking man leaves his mind open for new possibilites."

Goforth-Sama is correct Lucius-San you must learn to empty your cup:

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

"It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted.

"You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
I would imagine that you are a big fan of the late British (born in Germany)psychologist Hans Eysenck, who through his long career was a prodigious author of papers on all aspects of the subject - and was not shy of tackling race and IQ, before Rushton, Lynn etc tackled the subject.
Anyhow, Eysenck was always known for his bravery in tackling 'difficult' and controversial areas and taking heterodox opinions and defending them vigorously.He tackled the subject of astrology with full scientific and mathematical scepticism - as revealed in his book 'Astrology Fact or Fiction'.
He came to the conclusion that, at root, there was truth in astrology.

Anonymous said...

"Personality decided at birth"

Does this mean astrology might be semi-valid? Real astrology and professional astrologers judge a person's personality from a chart calculated for the EXACT moment of their birth, and it involves all of the planets along with the Sun and Moon, not just one sign like Aries or Scorpio.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natal_chart

Lucius Vorenus said...

What is this "exact moment of birth" nonsense?

What if your Mom paused a moment before squirting you out?

Or what if she pushed extra hard and squirted you out early?

Or what if her water waited an extra day to burst?

Or what if the delivery room they wanted you to be born in was unexpectedly busy and they had to wheel her down the hall to a different room, thereby screwing up the time of your birth?

Or what if she was wearing a seatbelt in an automobile collision at eight months and was forced into premature labor?

Or what if your Dad got too drunk on the night that you were supposed to have been conceived [or at least the night that the little fellas would have begun their 36-hour journey up to the top of the fallopian tubes], so that your Dad couldn't perform, and he had to wait until a few days later for the hangover to pass, at which point it was too late in the menstrual cycle, and you'd have to wait until the following month to be created? [Or what if your Mom faked a headache that night?]

Again, I can't tell whether you guys are serious, or whether all of this stuff is tongue-in-cheek.

geo said...

"Or what if her water waited an extra day to burst?"

What exactly is your question? Listing comic circumstances that flumox us mortals?
The moment of birth is the moment of birth, regardless of what "caused it." It just is. Quite existential.
I don't know about the other commenters, but I'm not tongue in cheek, I'm dead serious. Astrology has been endlessly debated and derided. People who take it seriously know all the arguments. We also know with whom we can discuss it, and with whom we cannot. Once you recognize how it works, it's hilarious to watch the unaware live out their birth blueprint blow by blow.
Like I said. There are a lot of variables, and doubtless a lot of things in the universe yet to be discovered that will put astrology into yet another perspective.
You don't get it fine. The universe doesn't seem to care.

Pia J said...

" Once you recognize how it works, it's hilarious to watch the unaware live out their birth blueprint blow by blow. " - geo

I've always enjoyed reading things on astrology & have generally found the characteristics of my sign as well as those of most of my friends & family members to be accurate with rare exception. As a general description of personality, astrology seems just as valid and scientific as many dreamed up by psychiatrists. Sometimes, though, I like to refer to humours when describing people. I don't understand those who are so adamantly opposed. At worst astrology offers harmless entertainment: At best it's a useful tool for making decisions about the people in your life.

Pee Wee Herman at the Fortune Teller said...

I often read my astrological description and find it spot on. When I grab a paper, I'll sometime read my wife's daily/weekly predictions out loud to her and also find it eerily accurate.

What I never do is read the sign we were "born under". I read the words under the Gemini heading to her, though she's a Capricorn. Or I'll just pick mine at random. And again, it nearly always rings true.

Anonymous said...

Pee Wee Herman at the Fortune Teller said...
I often read my astrological description and find it spot on
.

Me, too. And then I read the astro predictions for other birthdates and find THEM equally, eerily spot on.

Amazing how that works, innit?

[Quick, from my skeptical, snarky personality, somebody deduce my astro sign!]

Truth said...

"[Quick, from my skeptical, snarky personality, somebody deduce my astro sign!]"

Aquarius.

Reader said...

As for "skeptics" such as Randi, et al., they are no more honestly skeptical about the paranormal than the author of the Measure of Man was open minded about racial differences. I knew Randi was not honest when I visited his website how his "skepticism" embraced such a wide and irrational variety of subjects. Political assasination conspiries do not belong in the same category as various paranmoral topics. Just about anything outside mainstream acceptance gets "debunked" by Randi. He's not a "skeptic", certainly not a truth seeker. He's a keeper of some pretty heavy gates though, and I'm not sure I want to know who he's working for.I dunno about all this astrology business, but I agree with you on Randi being a bit of a jerk. Self-proclaimed "skeptics" in general tend to be an irritating bunch - lots of somewhat above average IQ types who think they're geniuses for not believing in ghosts and UFOs.

Reader said...

Hmmm.... okay, I looked at astro.com. I have a chart, but I have no idea what it means (I also hope the methods are robust to within +/- 15 mins of my birth time). I did the personality profile, which is actually a surprisingly accurate description of me, and not in a vague "you are very idealistic but you also have a practical side" kind of way that could apply to anyone - the description here would be dead wrong for like 95% of people. Well, interesting.

The "short report forecast" is much more vague and less impressive (seems like it could apply to anyone at my age), but I guess I'll see how well it fits what happens...