A team of researchers led by psychologist John Malouff aggregated the results of hundreds of studies on human behaviour and found that 41 per cent of human behaviour — good or bad — could be accounted for by genetics.
The results were published last month in Current Psychology.
“While there had been many studies done on specific behaviours such as alcoholism or smoking, we were interested to see if we could put a figure on the genetic influence on behaviour in general,” Dr Malouff said. “We looked at a whole range of normal and problem behaviours, and what we found was that again and again the genetic component of these behaviours tended to clump around the 40 per cent mark.
This makes genetics perhaps the single most powerful influence on a person’s behaviour over their lifetime.
“If you look at what we know about what causes behaviour, it’s hard to find another chunk so large. While a short-term situation may have a strong influence on behaviour, in the long run genes are very important,” Dr Malouff said.
He hastened to add, however, that genes were “not destiny”.
“An example I give to my clients is hair colour. Hair colour is genetically determined. You’re born blonde, redheaded, brunette. You can change that, but you have to keep working at it. Unless you dye your hair every couple of weeks, it’s going to revert to its natural colour. Behaviour is similar. People need to keep working on their bad habits or behaviours if they want to change them, especially if they are predisposed to continue them.”
So the next time you find yourself nagging the kids like your mum or knocking back that third tinny like your dad, remember, there’s something you can do about it. But it might not be easy.
For more information, contact Dr John Malouff on (02) 6773 3776 or Leon Braun (UNE public relations) on (02) 6773 3771.