Role of the Environment in Personality Development

Role of the Environment in Personality Development


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Role of the Environment in Personality Development


Even though the concept of personality development has no precise definition in psychology, it is routinely defined as the pattern of thoughts, emotions, actions, and behaviors that distinguish one person from the other. Overall, the study of this concept is anchored on the observable variations seen in the behavior of children and adults. Many empirical studies associate differences in human personalities to two vital aspects: genetics and the environment. Whereas genetics is responsible for transmitting prenatal human traits that cause innate disparities in human behavior, the environment is liable for introducing external postnatal factors that shape individuals behave in a particular way.

There are three stages where personality development is believed to occur, namely: childhood, puberty, and adulthood. The environmental components that shape behavior in these periods are the family, schools, and peers. In this study, the author has undertaken a review of past longitudinal studies that have investigated the impact of each of the above stated environmental factors on the behavior of a person. The author has also tried to examine how each relates to the three stages of life.

Literature Review

The Family

           Immediately after childbirth, the socialization process that requires the input of a child’s observational and cognitive abilities begins to take place. Automatically, the family becomes the first environmental unit where shaping of a child’s personality starts to occur (Fu et al., 2013). In the past, most psychosocial studies gave more prominence to childhood development and how it affected adulthood behavior. In so doing, they suggested that the family and parents are the most important environmental units that shape a person’s personality.  However, there is a growing qualm amongst many psychologists against this notion. They believe that other environmental units different from the family can alter human behavior at various phases of life. Thus, there is no assurance that a child will continue to behave in a particular way until adulthood. Besides, at old age most people develop an independent sense of cognition that allows them to deviate from earlier behavior by generating self-regulated conclusions.

However, for children aged between 0-16, the family is the supreme cause of temperament behaviors, such as extroversion and introversion. According to Fu et al. (2013), there are two distinctive sub-environments under the family: the material and the psychological environments. The material environment comprises of a family’s income levels and the education standards of the parents. In contrast, the psychological environment is made up of communication practices, education style used by parents, and the general behavior of family members. Extroversion in children has been found to be common in families that have high levels of optimism and frequently communicate with each other. Conversely, in families where parents practice oppressive behaviors that encourage stress or authoritarian rule, children have been found to develop high levels of introversion.


Schools act as the first formal environment where children can interact with the external environment. To a large extent, the role of schools in the socialization process of a child is similar to that of the family, except that it lacks the comfort and security of the latter. In this environment, a child gets to discover that some of the aspects learnt at family level are falsehoods. For instance, at family level most parents may express optimism that their children are capable of achieving anything. However, the reality in school confronts the optimism of some of the children because they get to realize that they are not as good as they have been made to think.

Additionally, prejudices and stereotypes propagated in schools by students and teachers have a direct impact on the personality of a child (Bigler, Hayes, & Hamilton, 2013). Typically, the prejudices have a disruptive effect, and they usually lead to discrimination or formation of peer groups. The manner in which a child responds to them in school can improve confidence or lead to new disorders such as low self- esteem or introversion. However, studies have found that support from parents helps the children to evolve through school to become intellectually independent people.


            Peer groups are unions that children begin to form while in school. They can be short-lived or still be able to last till old age. During early stages of life, these groups are usually formed on the basis of social class, gender differences, or other idiosyncratic preferences. They are responsible for perpetuating extreme stereotypes, and they eventually become very efficient tools of personality development during the puberty stage (Reitz, Zimmermann, Hutteman, Specht, & Neyer, 2014). At this point, peer groups become very powerful instruments of socialization responsible for transmitting positive and negative behavior. As a result, parents should be very mindful of the groupings their teenage children socialize with at all times. Even at adult life, alliances that people associate themselves with have a massive impact on their personal character.


            Studying personality development is very confusing because most studies tend to assume that a child’s behavior is the central determinant of his or her adulthood behavior. Fascinatingly, this is always not the case. As discovered in this review, it is apparent that once a child steps out of the family, a very different set of environmental aspects begin to interplay with each other. Thus, the ultimate determinant of an individual’s personality is the balance attained from the interaction of loyalty to family values, devotion to peer interests, and the urge to be intellectually independent.


            It is evident that the environment is one of the most important postnatal shapers of a person’s behavior. Even though a child’s personality development under the family imparts lifelong behavioral traits, such as introversion and extroversion, there is no guarantee that these characteristics will not change till adulthood. In fact, in most cases the introduction of other environmental aspects ensures that a child gains a new personality by shedding or learning to control the behaviors learnt at home. For example, schooling makes an individual to be intellectually independent. In addition, peer groups introduce a complete set of different social thinking dissimilar to that of the family. Hence, this review postulates that personality development is guided by the equilibrium of behavior learnt at the family level, in schools, and in peer groups.


Bigler, R., Hayes, A. R., & Hamilton, V. (2013). The role of schools in the early socialization of gender differences. Martin CL, topic ed. Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development, 1-5.

Fu, Y. X., Hou, X., Jia, L., Qiu, T., Qin, Q., Meng, H. Q., … & Wang, Y. C. (2013). Study of family environmental factor on only-children’s personality. Health, 5(3), 567-573.

Reitz, A. K., Zimmermann, J., Hutteman, R., Specht, J., & Neyer, F. J. (2014). How peers make a difference: The role of peer groups and peer relationships in personality development. European Journal of Personality, 28(3), 279-288.



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