Cal State Fullerton Professor Nancy Segal is an authority on such studies, having worked for nine years on the famous Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, and now heading CSUF's Twin Studies Center. She's joined me several times on "AirTalk" to discuss her books on twins, including guesting with me this past Wednesday.
What I find so fascinating from these studies is how strong our genetic programming appears to be, despite different childhood environments. It's certainly counterintuitive to me, as I would expect a strong environment -- positive or negative --to be more influential. However, it might be that we embrace the idea of powerful nurturing because it gives us a greater sense that we can influence others. We also know how damaging abusive or neglectful parenting can be, so maybe that leads us to ascribe equally strong outcomes to a positive influence.
My conversation with professor Segal was freshly in mind last night as Kristen and I got together with a longtime friend of mine, his wife, and baby daughter. I've known Jim since I was ten-years-old and we attended Centinela Elementary and Crozier Junior High in Inglewood.
I really enjoy catching up with him. Jim was the one who insisted I listen to Chick Hearn announce Laker games. I vividly remember going home that night and tuning in the game. I was hooked, became an instant sports fan, and started down the path to a career in radio. Jim's also a terrific conversationalist and a very nice guy.
Unfortunately, Jim lives in Colorado, so our get-togethers are infrequent. Regardless, I'm always struck by how much he and I are the same as we were when we met more than 40 years ago. How can it be that we're basically the same in every significant way? Jim's widely-traveled and has had a broad range of life experiences, and I've been exposed to so much more in my adult life than I had experienced in childhood. Regardless, our personalities, temperaments, world views, and ways we live seem remarkably similar to how each of us was in childhood.
Perhaps these major parts of our identities are simply who we are and not particularly subject to environmental influence. However, what if we had suffered a severe trauma in the intervening years? Just as with damaging parenting, would we have been fundamentally changed? Would our outlook and personality be different as a result?
What about you? Are you essentially the same person as you've always been, or have you consciously or naturally undergone significant changes that would lead childhood friends to look at you now as a distinctly different person than you were then? What caused those changes?