Does Nature or Nurture Determine Mood?

Psychologists believe that people tend to have a baseline, or resting point for their moods, based in part on life experience, not solely on genetics. New research reveals that these baselines tend to stay constant for long periods of time, especially in people with anxiety and depression. “The overwhelming view within psychiatry and psychology is that it is due to genetic factors,” says Kenneth S. Kendler, psychiatrist at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Yet we know that extreme environmental adversities, such as abuse in childhood or wartime trauma, have a long-term impact on people.”

Kendler and colleagues from VCU, as well as the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, VU University of Amsterdam and the University of California gathered data from almost 8,000 twins, half of whom were paired, the other half unpaired. Twins were the ideal subjects because they share the same genetic composition, and can show the true impact of nurture versus nature. The longitudal studies from which the data was collected included twins as young as age 11 and through their late 60’s. The research showed that baselines of the youngest twins were similar, but began to diverge as they aged, leveling off by age 60. The researchers believe that genetics play a role in a person’s predisposition to certain moods, but experiences significantly impact where moods settle.

Kendler and his colleagues believe that this study will impact more than just the exploration of depression and anxiety. They feel that this study demonstrates the importance of positive life experiences in order to achieve a sense of overall life satisfaction. “Environmental experiences have a memory and stay with us,” says Kendler. “What governs the emotional set point of adults is a mixture of genetic factors and the total aggregate of environmental experiences.” He concludes by saying, “If you want to be happy in old age, live a good life.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Carolyn


    June 30th, 2011 at 4:37 AM

    I don’t know I have always waffled about this, about whether this is a nature or nurture kind of thing. I tend to lean pretty heavily toward the nature element, because I think that a lot of us know there are things that are beyond what we can control, and this has to be pretty heavily dictated by who we are inside. There are some people that this has no effect on but you know that there are others (and that includes me!) for whom nature is hard to escape. Now whether that is because this is who you are or who you think you should be, I don’t know. But it is definitely one of those strong influences that can be hard to overcome.

  • louis henry

    louis henry

    June 30th, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    I have to agree that it’s both nature and nurture.but while nature,that is our gentics are hardcoded and it’s not really easy to get over those things,buried,that is our experiences can be overcome and that the overcoming also depends on you.if you are of the type that can put things behind and move on you will find it easier.

  • Jane Powers

    Jane Powers

    July 3rd, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    For me it is all about what is going on around me that influences my mood. When I am having a bad day at work or there is a lot of stress happening around me then I am sure to be in a bad mood. I know that genetics are strong but the environment around you can be even stronger! Unfortunately I have a hard time sometimes distinguishing between how I am really feeling and not feeding off of the moods of others. It is really hard to stay up when everyone else around you is down.

  • F. Samuels

    F. Samuels

    July 6th, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    I believe it’s how they’re brought up and how they experience life. I’ve known plenty of people in my lifetime and all of them have changed for the most part, sometimes for good and sometimes for short bursts. Those short bursts are also part of their personality.

  • D.M.


    July 6th, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    The twins experiment has been done numerous times in the past, and while there can be similarities in their youth, they can differ in their personality and beliefs just as easily as two completely unrelated persons in adulthood.

    That alone is enough proof that nurture is what predominantly determines how you act later in life. Genetics alone cannot override the power of life experiences.

  • Nicole Bass

    Nicole Bass

    July 6th, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    I’m honestly surprised that this debate is still going on. We all change. I’m not the same as I was ten years ago and that’s down to my life experiences, not my nature.

    I thought the first five years were the most formative years of a child’s life anyway? Anyway, by now we’ve more or less accepted that you have to raise children right from the day they come into the world for them to enjoy their future. This really isn’t anything new.

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