Saturday, 9 April 2011

Hard wiring

I remember thinking about the nature/nurture argument as a young teenager and concluding everything was nurture. I suspect this was because my inexperienced mind did not fully comprehend that other people were or could be different from me. I thought we all started with the same blank canvas and life painted its stuff all over it.

Then as I grew up with a natural fascination in people, my view became slightly more sophisticated. The blank canvas does not exist of course (der)! A person pops into this life with their own unique blueprint that life fiddles a little with. I think different blueprints would cope with the same life completely differently but different lives fiddle with the same blueprint less significantly.

So I'm very much a believer in 'nature' these days! Why?

1) I had kids and their blueprints were apparent long before they could talk.
2) I remember someone who had worked in mental health for years telling me how studies of severely abused children always demonstrated that about a third of these children grew up with no apparent impact of their terrible experiences. This was because this third had a blueprint that meant they could cope with all the horrible stuff people had thrown at them.
3) It's just obvious isn't it!

So now I look at evidence of people's hard wiring and I'm really jealous of some people - particular two types of hard wiring:

High agreeableness
(as in The Big 5)

People with high levels of agreeableness can seem to those with much lower levels as all-giving, selfless, mugs! But research has shown that those with high levels of agreeableness are generally much happier people. They are those people that never have a bad word to say about ANYONE and always assume the best of everyone. They simply don't see other people's darknesses or shortfalls. Or if they do, it's not a big focus or concern. 'They're a git, let's move on'. These people are wonderful in my opinion. I might be biased because I married one. I probably needed to!!!!

Low neuroticism
(also as in The Big 5)

These people are just not wired up to worry or experience as many negative feelings as those with higher levels. O.K. it can mean that they are completely blasé about taking risks but they are emotionally stable and naturally resilient. That must make life very easy!

And when psychologists talk about these two traits and try to suggest that both high and low levels bring strengths (i.e. we're all great), their arguments for the pluses of high neuroticism and low agreeableness never quite cut it for me! (Especially as extremely high neuroticism is linked to poor mental health and extremely low agreeableness linked to an increased chance of being a psychopath!)

I am not suggesting I am really low on agreeableness or high in neuroticism, but if I come here again, I am queueing up for my blueprint to be tweaked a bit!


  1. I probably fall in the highly agreeable highly neurotic camp. Although I worry about being categorized that way, but will if that's what you think also.

  2. Have you read anything by Martin Seligman - he has good website too. His book authentic happiness is very good and touches on some of these themes.

  3. Eric - you are funny!!! That's your category!

    No Mark - you have mentioned him before....I will have to investigate.

  4. I agree, I've agreed for ages, even before I knew you thought this.

    Personally, I think that is the real miracle of creation - that we can all be born as separate and different human beings.

    [Came here from Gary's comment on your doodle.]

  5. I have changed my mind somewhat since reading about attachment theory (Why love matters by Sue Gerhardt). We do exhibit a 'hard wiring' as an adult but I no longer believe it to be based so much on genetics. A lot of the final wiring is formed in the womb and the first year or so in response to the care we receive. There is some basic blueprint but those early times mould our hard wiring with respect to stress/emotion regulation and the ability to relate to others/empathise.


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