I. D.: How Heredity and Experience Make You Who You Are

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Weaving together the findings of a highly diverse group of scientists - geneticists and psychoanalysts, neuroscientists and primatologists - Winifred Gallagher shows how cutting-edge research is unlocking the secrets of human individuality. It's now clear that we are each born with a certain temperament that pushes some people toward the adrenaline highs of race-car driving, the introspection of the writing life, or the socializing of the campaign trail. This disposition isn't just "psychological," but ...
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Overview

Weaving together the findings of a highly diverse group of scientists - geneticists and psychoanalysts, neuroscientists and primatologists - Winifred Gallagher shows how cutting-edge research is unlocking the secrets of human individuality. It's now clear that we are each born with a certain temperament that pushes some people toward the adrenaline highs of race-car driving, the introspection of the writing life, or the socializing of the campaign trail. This disposition isn't just "psychological," but physiological, too; a unique mind/body identity. But, as I.D. stresses, acknowledging personality's genetic roots makes it all the more imperative that we understand the role played by environment - not only because it's powerful but also because, unlike our genes, we can do something about it. Indeed, science's ancient definition of temperament as inborn is currently being rewritten as new research shows that our life experience can be literally as well as figuratively engraved in our nervous systems, often as emphatically as the marks of genes. We may be born shy or aggressive, but the way in which nurture shapes those tendencies gives us our "second nature." With stylistic grace, Winifred Gallagher explores the role of heredity and environment in everything from creativity to pathology while preserving the wonder and mystery of being human. Far from making us feel like genetic robots, knowing the facts about our biological and historical legacies imparts a sense of liberation and possibility. We can't completely change who we are, but if we're unhappy, we can make some important adjustment - from turning up or down the volume of a problematic trait to leaving a maladaptive marriage or career - that can feel like a whole new life. When we understand our own I.D.'s and those of our family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and lovers, our lives become more satisfying and interesting.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Each person's life experience is shaped by the genetically influenced temperament or disposition he or she inherits, asserts science writer Gallagher (The Power of Place). Synthesizing recent research in neuroscience, genetics, psychiatry and biology, she maintains that three basic, partly inherited emotional responses to the world-irritability, gusto and anxiety-shape our adult personalities. According to this theory, heredity inclines us to 'select' certain experiences and environments that then further mold our constantly changing selves. Gallagher examines how the temperaments of surgeons, criminals, cops and hard-driving executives are reinforced, even altered, by events. Another finding she reports is that our experience is engraved on our nervous system, so that, for example, severely abused children have impaired cortisol and catecholamine systems, which regulate mood and stress reactions. Her instructive, open-ended exploration of personality sheds new light on parenting, personal growth, gender differences, national character and possible adverse effects of antidepressants such as Prozac.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Each person's life experience is shaped by the genetically influenced temperament or disposition he or she inherits, asserts science writer Gallagher (The Power of Place). Synthesizing recent research in neuroscience, genetics, psychiatry and biology, she maintains that three basic, partly inherited emotional responses to the world-irritability, gusto and anxiety-shape our adult personalities. According to this theory, heredity inclines us to "select" certain experiences and environments that then further mold our constantly changing selves. Gallagher examines how the temperaments of surgeons, criminals, cops and hard-driving executives are reinforced, even altered, by events. Another finding she reports is that our experience is engraved on our nervous system, so that, for example, severely abused children have impaired cortisol and catecholamine systems, which regulate mood and stress reactions. Her instructive, open-ended exploration of personality sheds new light on parenting, personal growth, gender differences, national character and possible adverse effects of antidepressants such as Prozac. Author tour. (Apr.)
Library Journal
What makes us the way we are? Can an individual change his or her behavior? These are the questions that Gallagher (The Power of Place, LJ 3/1/94) attempts to answer in this introductory discussion of current research on nature and nurture. Citing studies from behavioral and biological sciences, Gallagher illustrates the interaction of inherited and environmental factors using incidents from the life of Monica, the subject of a 40-year longitudinal study beginning with her diagnosis as a failure-to-thrive infant hospitalized for the correction of birth defects. Gallagher examines studies of infant feeding and early childhood experiences, discusses changes induced by psychoactive drugs and psychotherapy, and investigates cultural, historical, and geographical influences on personality. Written in a nontechnical, often colloquial style, this survey of our current understanding of identity is well recommended for general psychology collections.-Lucille Boone, San Jose P.L., Cal.
Donna Seaman
The question of why people are the way they are is intrinsic to the ever-perplexing human condition. Gallagher, an engaging science writer and author of "The Power of Place" (1993), presents various theories of temperament, from the humors of Hippocrates to the current understanding of genetics, adaptive behavior, and neurotransmitters. Along the way, she offers some stirring descriptions of distinctive personality types, illustrated by examples as diverse as Ty Cobb and Sylvia Plath, and presents fresh approaches to the age-old paradox of nature versus nurture. Her benchmark throughout this engaging survey is the remarkable story of a woman, Monica, who was rendered all but catatonic in early infancy by neglect. The details of Monica's recovery illuminate all the issues Gallagher raises regarding the myriad vicissitudes of temperament and behavior. In conclusion, Gallagher reminds readers that even in this era of readily available psychoactive drugs, they mustn't forget that the "wealth of dispositions is our species' glory."
Kirkus Reviews
An unwieldy assemblage of information on the varied elements—from genes to neurotransmitters to early life experiences—that are believed to contribute to personality.

Science writer Gallagher (The Power of Place, 1993) has assembled but not digested a huge amount of information on the complementary roles of nature and nurture in forming our individual identities. Her book centers on a woman identified as Monica. Monica was studied from her sensually deprived infancy (when an esophageal defect necessitated tube feeding and a depressed mother neglected her) and on into her unpredictably happy, successful adulthood—a success psychologists say is due to an inborn temperamental gift that we might call charisma. Pursuing this and many other studies (but without sourcing them), Gallagher brings out a particularly interesting point: that research has found nature and nurture to be linked in a two-way relationship. For instance, experience can actually change neurotransmitter patterns in the brain; conversely, our inborn temperament can influence what kinds of experiences we have. But Gallagher lacks a strong framework or point of view; she roams all over the psychological map, from memory to the unconscious to the artistic temperament. Too often, she gives an on-the-one-hand/on-the-other summary of the facts that leads to no conclusion other than the fairly useless one often repeated to her by researchers: We still don't know how much our genes and our environment contribute respectively to our selves. Further, she relies heavily on models that measure temperament on a range of axes, such as extroversion and agreeableness. But while Gallagher protests how complex personality is, this theory sounds like a simplistic building-block approach: Mr. X may have a large dose of extroversion, a touch of irritability, etc.

Researchers recently announced the identification of a gene they say influences temperament. Only the future will tell us what Gallagher unfortunately can't.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679430186
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Winifred Gallagher
Winifred Gallagher

Winifred Gallagher's books include House Thinking, Just the Way You Are (a New York Times Notable Book), Working on God, and The Power of Place. She has written for numerous publications, such as Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times.

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