Epigenetic research increasingly points to personality traits and disorders being more like “acquired characteristics,” usually but not always with a survival value that can be traced back generations. Studies of monozygous twins, having the exact same genes, indicate a heritability factor of 40 – 50% for depression: suggesting that nearly half of depressions are inherited not on genes, not on DNA, but by an array of small molecules attached to chromosomes, the epigenome.
Researchers from Yale and the Max Planck Institute have shown that some babies are born with a spectrum of what they consider “good” and “bad” behaviors. Babies born “bad” could have inherited epigenomes that increase their risk of difficult-to-treat depressions, or criminality, later in life. More research is needed to reveal such links.
“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” – Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate
The epigenome we’re born with isn’t fixed for life – it changes with us, as things happen to us early on, and by the ways we each choose to act and think as adults. As babies, we develop according to the quality of our nurturing surroundings. We search family faces, feel touches, listen to voices and heartbeats and soak up information. Neural connections multiply, while maintaining great specificity. Neurons become so specific, in fact, that UCLA neurosurgeon, Itzhak Fried, named one neuron the “Jennifer Aniston neuron,” because it only fired when it recognizes her face.
At birth, each neuron maintains an estimated 2,500 synaptic connections. By the age of three, as babies have learned to filter their perceptions – maybe to view the world as a loving and friendly place that welcomes them – or conversely, to see the world as cruel and neglectful – each of their neurons has developed connections with 15,000 more synaptic connections!
A baby’s first three years thrive on love and attention and are critical to future well-being. Infants raised in abusive, violent, or neglectful situations (or born with “bad baby” epigenomes) are many times more prone to depression in adolescence and adulthood.