In the TLS, Carol Travis reviews Daniel Nettle’s Personality:
What a difference a century makes. One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud’s answer to Daniel Nettle’s question – “What makes you the way you are?” – would have begun with your unconscious mind: the unique pattern of fantasies, defences, and instinctual conflicts that create your neurotic insecurities and self-defeating habits. These unconscious mechanisms would, in turn, have been profoundly influenced by your parents, who overpunished you or underappreciated you, who told you too much about sex or not enough. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with years of psychoanalysis.
Today, personality researchers almost uniformly agree that the things that make you the way you are consist of a combination of your genes, your peers and the idiosyncratic, chance experiences that befall you in childhood and adulthood. Your parents influence your relationship with them – loving or contentious, conflicted or close – but not your “personality”, that package of traits we label extroverted or shy, bitter or friendly, hostile or warm, gloomy or optimistic. Your genes, not your parents, are the reason you think that parachuting out of planes is fun, or, conversely, that you feel sick to the stomach at the mere idea of doing such a crazy thing voluntarily. You can’t do much about your personality, though you can tweak it a bit with cognitive therapy.