The elusive world of personality genes: Cherchez le phenotype

Richard P. Ebstein, Rachel Bachner-Melman, Jonathan Benjamin, Robert H. Belmaker

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The term “personality” typically is used in two different ways. One refers to the totality of a person’s psychological nature. Personality in this sense is to be distinguished from physique (an individual is comprised of body and soul-if we separate out the explicitly spiritual we are left with body and personality), and, in a different context, from mental illness (we distinguish between someone’s behavior during illness and her normal personality). For most authors, personality does not encompass all mental phenomena. Few would include simple perception, memory, and concentration as aspects of personality, and intelligence is also frequently not considered part of personality, although a recent book1 on personality genetics did include a chapter on cognitive ability. All agree that the emotional aspects of the psyche are included in personality. This approach to personality considers the universal aspects of people, not how they differ from each other. Traditional theories of personality, of which Freud’s remains the outstanding example, purport to explain what is man, “what makes him tick,” to suggest a “physiology” of personality. If genomics aims to elucidate the entire genome of a species, and biochemistry and physiology aim to account for the functions of that genome and its protein products, and if genetics is limited to the study of the consequences of genetic differences between members of the species, then by analogy we can say that this first sense of “personality” is a “genomic” approach. Its subjects include the unconscious, motivation, instincts, defense mechanisms, the life cycle, interpersonal relations, conditioning and self-actualization. While this branch of psychology has had a major influence on twentieth-century culture, much of it is psychoanalytic, metaphoric, and untestable, it has hardly been studied by geneticists.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeurobehavioral Genetics
Subtitle of host publicationMethods and Applications, Second Edition
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781420003567
ISBN (Print)084931903X, 9780849319037
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2006


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