Are good researchers born or made?

Personality: what is inherited, what is educated?

Experiences influence personality

The scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry only separated young mice from their mothers for a short time - but the effect was persistent. Throughout their life, the traumatized mice performed significantly worse in learning and stress tests than their conspecifics, had no drive and did not behave appropriately towards other mice. The explanation: During the separation from the mothers, the brain region in the mice, which is responsible for coping with stress, was overly active. In the long term, this led to a change in the genetic make-up.

The study is an impressive example of the epigenetics discipline, which is only a few decades old. Contrary to what we thought, the human genome is not immutable. Rather, the environment obviously influences it.

Healthy lifestyle good for the body and mind

An experiment by British researchers showed that chronic lack of sleep changes the activity of some genes that are responsible for the immune system and metabolism, for example. However, external circumstances can also make us better and healthier people. Because sport, meditation and a balanced diet also affect our genes. An example: just a little more exercise during the day has a life-prolonging effect. This was the result of the worldwide EPIC study, which is dedicated to research into cancer. The researchers' conclusion: If all those who disdain sports were to be made to walk for only 20 minutes a day, life expectancy would increase by 0.7 years.

Actually reassuring: We are not a plaything of our genes, but we can turn a lot for the better through a healthy lifestyle and good experiences.

Parents can influence a lot, but not everything

We do not have all living conditions and how they work under control, as the so-called PING study (Pediatric Imaging, Neurocognition and Genetics Study) shows. Nine American universities were involved. The researchers showed that children of low-income parents with an annual income of less than $ 25,000 had a six percent smaller cerebral surface area than children of high-income families (more than $ 150,000).

The explanation: Family income determines factors such as diet, health care and choice of school. The children of wealthier parents simply have better options to develop. Fortunately, parents have many factors in their hands, not all, but many. Many studies show that children learn eating preferences very early - even for healthy foods when they are offered them. However, if they receive a lot of sweetened drinks as infants, they will maintain this preference later on.

Is Talent Always Necessary?

"Everyone can become a successful musician" - claimed US psychologist Frederic Skinner 50 years ago. Developmental psychologist Birgit Elsner would meanwhile put this statement into perspective: "Everyone can learn to sing or play football - and very well at that." Whether he manages to get promoted to the Bundesliga or fill concert halls: this presumably requires an innate talent. But at least everyone can learn to enjoy music, exercise or good nutrition. "Genes," wrote US twin researcher Prof. Thomas Bouchard, "are not commanders. They are just options."