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Sumayyah Chaudhry

March 17th, 2022

You had no choice in becoming the person you are today

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sumayyah Chaudhry

March 17th, 2022

You had no choice in becoming the person you are today

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In this post, Sumayyah Chaudhry (studying BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE) discusses how your environment and upbringing dictate who you are, and why the choices you make matter. This post was originally written as part of PB101: Foundations of Psychological Science, a compulsory course on the BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science programme. It has been published with the permission of the author.

Do you remember choosing to be who you are?

That might be a confusing question, and your instinctive reply may be, “well, duh”. It’s true that, in some ways, you may have chosen to be who you are today. You decide to exercise, eat healthily and read often… or not.

But why did you make those choices?

How did you learn to do things that way?

Well, psychology has the answers.

Uniquely You…?

Humans like to pride themselves on their individuality. But you aren’t as unique as you think. Although large parts of us are unique (we all have our weird quirks), these attributes came from somewhere.

Lev Vygotsky claims that the environment in which children grow up will influence how they think and what they think about. Your characteristics originated from the culture you live in and your upbringing. Everything we are and everything we do has an origin story. In the words of Vygotsky, “through others, we become ourselves”.

Vygotsky developed a sociocultural approach to cognitive development, arguing that individual development cannot be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which it’s embedded. This links to behaviourism and developmental psychology. Behaviourism outlines that behaviour is learned and can be explained through an individual’s interactions with the environment, while developmental psychology focuses on how and why human cognition and social functioning changes throughout their life span.

Environmental Effects

Leading on from behaviourism and Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, empirical research, like cross-cultural studies and twin studies, have shown the influence of the environment on an individual’s attitudes, beliefs and cognitive development.

Research was conducted to compare Chinese and Canadian children’s morality and perspectives on lying. From the study, consistencies were seen that lying in antisocial situations was bad and telling the truth was positive.

But an interesting finding was seen in reactions to prosocial, helpful behaviour. It was found that Chinese participants rated prosocial truth-telling less positively than their Canadian counterparts, rating prosocial lying higher. In China, this cultural difference became more significant with older age groups, with 70% of 11-year-olds considering lying to be a good thing in prosocial situations vs just 25% of 7-year-olds. So, if an individual did a good deed and owned up to doing the good deed, Chinese children would consider that behaviour naughty. This difference became more noticeable as the child aged and adhered to their environment.

The researchers suggested this difference was due to Chinese children being taught values of self-effacement and modesty, which had an increased impact on moral reasoning as they aged. This demonstrates the unconscious adaption of children to their environment and the assimilation to social norms and cultural influences.

Longitudinal twin studies reinforce the concept of assimilation to the environment. In twin studies, researchers follow identical and fraternal twins/triplets separated at an early age and reared in different environments.

One of the most notable examples of a twin study is Bernard and Neubauer’s controversial 1960s study,  where twins and triplets were separated at birth. The study’s records have been sealed, but a documentary was released from the perspective of a group of siblings who were reunited: Three Identical Strangers. This documentary presents the story of the reunion and individual lives. It was found that the siblings shared similarities in interests and habits, but there were significant differences due to the different familial dynamics.

Due to variance in upbringings, dissimilarities in personality and mental health were seen within the triplets. Such twin studies have proven vital in looking at the interactions of nature, your biology, and nurture, the environment, in developing characteristics in an individual.

Although the nature-nurture debate continues to be highly contentious in psychology, the strict dichotomy between genes and environment is no longer relevant – twin studies show that the two factors work in concert with around 50/50 influence from each.

Biological Backing

As genetics and the environment work together, it’s important to consider the effect of biology on your characteristics. Developmental studies provide neuroscientific evidence to show that the earliest years are critical for brain development of sensory pathways and higher cognitive function.

Shonkoff and Philips (2000) show that sensory and language pathways begin to form while you’re a foetus before slowing around age 7. As a child gets older, their brain’s adaptability lessens as the formation of brain pathways slows. Thus, your earliest years – when you have little control in shaping your environment – are essential for cognitive development, affecting your whole life.

Thus, biology defines your potential, but the environment determines how you turn out. And the way you turned out is primarily due to your parents – your number one role models.

Parental Power

For children, parents are their idols. They’re who they look up to, learn from and want to be. Parental figures and admirable characters in a child’s life shape their perspectives.

However, these idolised figures may not hold idyllic views. A role-models’ negative attitudes can also be inherited. Consider racism; children who grow up in a racist household may develop, practice and perpetuate racially discriminatory behaviours as they learn and imitate their idols. Studies have shown the power of imitation, where children encompass group biases from videos of adults showing negative behaviours towards certain stimuli.

This study links to Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Bandura showed that children imitate and learn aggressive behaviour from adults incredibly quickly, without being told to.

Watch Out for the Copy-Cat

As a child, you copied your role models – be that a parent, an older sibling or a stranger you admired. As a result, your identity was created.

Now, roles have reversed. You’re a role model for a young person. If you’re a parent, older sibling, auntie or uncle, you may know that. But your influence as a cool, imitable stranger is just as significant.

As outlined, nurture has a massive impact on the development of a person’s perspectives, personality and cognition. Genes did their part: it laid down the foundation. Then the environment took control.

And guess what, you are a part of that environment.

Although children may not be able to choose what factors contribute to making them the person they are, you contribute to a child’s ideals and attitudes as a role-model.

So, nurture positively.

Your influence is greater than you think.


  • This post reflects the view of the author and not the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, nor LSE.
  • This post was originally written as part of PB101: Foundations of Psychological Science, a compulsory course on the BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science undergraduate programme. The post has been published with the author’s permission.


Image References:

  • Featured image and image 1 by Ernest Akayu on iStockPhoto
  • Image 2 by Peter Snow on iStockPhoto



About the author

Sumayyah Chaudhry

Sumayyah is a BSc Psychological and Behavioural Student at LSE. Her exposure to a range of cultural contexts through living in three different continents during her upbringing led to her fascination on the effect of society and culture on human development and social interaction.

Posted In: BSc | BSc Psychological and Behavioural Science | PB101 Foundations of Psychological Science

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