Where do you come from?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

Where does your personality come from? At least partly from your parents, right? But how? To find out one way in which your parents seem to influence your personality, simply answer the question below, averaging across your mother and father.

How many years of full-time education do your parents have? (a) 12 (School), (b) 14 (e.g., A Levels), (c) 17 (e.g., University degree), (d) 18 (e.g., Masters), (e) 20+ (e.g., PhD).

If you scored 15 or more, then – on average (though of course there are exceptions) – you are more open to new experiences, emotionally stable, and extraverted than those scoring 14 or less. Interestingly, this pattern holds true whether we are talking about biological or adoptive parents, suggesting that upbringing, rather than genetics, is the cause of these links (though personality does have an important genetic component too).

These were the findings of a hot-off-the-presses study of over 60,000 participants conducted at Florida State University, using data from seven different large-scale US datasets. The links between years of parental education and openness, emotional stability and extraversion – while modest – were consistently found in all seven samples. Perhaps surprisingly, though, more educated parents did not tend to have more conscientious children. In fact, there was some evidence to suggest – at least when looking at datasets made up of younger participants – that more conscientious parents tended to have less conscientious children. Perhaps because they were rebelling?

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com

Reference: Sutin, Angelina R.; Luchetti, Martina; Stephan, Yannick; Robins, Richard W.; Terracciano, Antonio. Parental Educational Attainment and Adult Offspring Personality: An Intergenerational Life Span Approach to the Origin of Adult Personality Traits.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Mar 13 , 2017, No Pagination Specified.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000137

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