Factors in the Development of Personality


None of us exist in a vacuum, therefore all of us have things that have affected our personality development. There are several factors that influence the development of one’s personality across the lifespan. These influences include; family, environment, culture, gender. In this paper I will discuss the effects of culture, gender and family on the development of personality. While it is generally accepted that each of these things influences the development of personality, it is difficult to tell which factor causes which changes. Since one cannot isolate a human being for years in a lab, the study of personality can be exceedingly difficult.


All of us grow up with cultural influences. According to McCrae & Terracciano (2005), the culture you live in does affect your personality. The study took representative samples from various cultures and gave each subject personality tests. The study also used observers from within the culture and outside it to verify the results of the personality tests. The study found that there are distinct differences between cultures. This includes those that are close geographically and between those who speak the same language (McCrae & Terracciano, 2005). It would stand to reason that if the differences generalize across the culture and are different between cultures, that the culture is likely responsible for the difference in personality.

In my professional experience as a project manager I have worked with many people from other cultures. The primary non-western culture I interface with regularly is Indian culture. I have worked with teams of Indians located both in America and in India. This has allowed me to observe the personalities of these people and make some assumptions about the affects of the Indian culture on their personalities. For example, I find most Indians to be conscientious and hardworking. Many of the Indian employees would work overtime without reporting it in order to finish a project on time or to make changes to their work that they deemed necessary for quality. They could have reported the overtime and gotten paid to do it. As their manager I encouraged them to do this, but they would often continue to ‘forget’ to report the work. The American workers did not do this. They reported their overtime consistently, and often complained when they had to work long hours. I could not guess which parts of the Indian and American cultures caused this difference in behavior, but to me, it is obvious that the difference exits.


It would seem to me that gender is an important part of personality development. After all, every culture has gender roles and these roles are passed on from generation to generation. According to one article, “In brief, gender differences are modest in magnitude, consistent with gender stereotypes, and replicable across cultures.” (Costa, Terracciano & McCrae, 2001 p. 328). This means that while gender roles are similar in different cultures, the differences between male and female varies much less within a single culture than one would think. Women were found to score higher in negative moods and feelings, were found to be more submissive and nurturing and were more feeling than ideological (Costa, Terracciano & McCrae, 2001). It was also found that gender differences are greater in Western, individualistic cultures (Costa, Terracciano & McCrae, 2001). This fact was surprising as these types of cultures tend to at least give lip service to equality between the genders. It is almost as if focusing on the fact that there should not be a difference between the genders makes one over-examine the concept and come up with a completely different answer.

In my own experience, I believe that some people really fit their gender stereotypes but others simply do not. I have observed that many of those who do not fit the stereotype tend to be found in jobs that are also non-traditional for their gender role. I often think that the variances from the norm in the gender roles come from rebelling against the traditional role. For example, many feminists will take on exceedingly masculine characteristics while claiming to both be equal to and have disdain for the male gender. It also often surprises me that gender roles can be so polarized, even with those who are taking on the role of the opposite gender. I know many gays and lesbians who take the opposite gender role to an extreme. I know very few women as feminine or as diva-like as a few of the gay queens I’ve met. I believe they are not only rebelling against the stereotype of their own gender, but also internalizing the media’s over-done stereotypes of the opposite gender.

This is a fairly interesting topic to me, as I am a female in a non-traditional role. I am an aggressive, tenacious and extremely interested in ideas. I work for a large corporation as a Project Manager, a field that is still mostly male. My fiancé, however, stays at home and home schools the children. He is extremely emotional and nurturing. Not to say that those roles have completely flipped, as I tend to be prone to anxiety and a bit neurotic whereas he enjoys some of the more male competitiveness found in sports and video games. I have noticed, however, that both of us have more respect for the parent of the opposite gender, and rebelled quite a bit against the one of the same gender. I would be interested in seeing studies done on the issue of role-reversals in Western cultures.


The study by Branje, van Lieshou & van Aken (2004)supported the idea that the family is a system. When one family member changes how they act or react, it changes the way others in the family act and react to them. Over the long term, it is believed, this can effect reactive personality changes on family members (Branje, van Lieshou & van Aken, 2004). It seems that these changes are not quick, and can take many years to form. Also, once a pattern of reacting is established in a relationship, it is very difficult to change it (Branje, van Lieshou & van Aken, 2004). Since changes happen most often at times for high stress for a family, it would seem that it is often these events that cause the changes in family dynamic, and therefore in personality (Branje, van Lieshou & van Aken, 2004). For example, the death of a parent can sometimes cause drastic changes in the personalities in the family system. According to the article, this is likely due to the difference in perceived support. Where the child was accustomed to having support of both parents, now they only have the support of one.

In my own experience, I can see how families can affect each other. There is nothing like the horror stories of the child who was molested or whose parent was a severe alcoholic to bring this into sharp focus. On the other hand, it is also very apparent to me that everyday interaction can introduce subtler changes. When I got a new set of in-laws, my daughter also got a new set of grandparents. The morals and values of the new grandparents are not the same as mine, and have resulted in severe family conflict. They have also, in my opinion, resulted in drastic changes in my daughter. She said she felt caught between me and her grandmother, and often was punished by both parties when she’d done a perceived wrong. Unfortunately, the perceived wrong was often something that was thought of as right and encouraged by half of the family. After trying to work through these situations amicably, I finally limited contact between my children and their grandmother to once a week. Changes were apparent within a couple weeks. They were less cranky and much more open and loving. The article mentions familial stability being a large factor in personality stability, and I wholeheartedly believe this. I have been living in a different state for a month, and the changes have become more pronounced. I believe this is due to the lack of conflict in their lives and the fact that rules and regulations have become much more stable.

It is difficult to tell what causes a person to act and react the way they do. It is obvious that certain things such as family, culture and gender leave a lasting impression on our personalities. It is, however, difficult to tell which factors cause which changes. It is often very much a chicken and egg issue. Does the personality change cause the change in environment, or does the environment cause the change in personality? Personality theory is still in its infanthood compared to other sciences and I’m sure that more of these questions will be answered as its study progresses.


McCrae, R. R., & Terracciano, A. (2005). Personality Profiles of Cultures : Aggregate Personality Traits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 89(3), pp. 407-425.


Costa, P. T., Terracciano, A, & McCrae, R. R. (2001). Gender Differences in Personality Traits Across Cultures: Robust and Surprising Findings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.81(2), pp. 322-331.


Branje, S. J. T., van Lieshout, C., & van Aken, M., (2004). Relations Between Big Five Personality Characteristics and Perceived Support in Adolescents’ Families. Journal of Personalityand Social Psychology. 86(4), pp. 615-628.


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