There is no doubt that inheritance significantly influences the shaping of a person’s physical and mental characteristics. But its power is not absolute, nor is it as big as it is often assumed. The presence of a particular gene in the cell mass that someone has inherited from a parent does not yet guarantee that the trait represented by that gene will indeed be fully manifested. Hereditary traits during life fall under the influence of the environment, which, admittedly, cannot significantly change them, but it can enhance or make them difficult, and even completely prevent their manifestation.
It is known, for example, that body growth largely depends on hereditary factors. But inheritance only provides the opportunity for growth to reach a certain height; it does not determine it. This possibility can be realized only if a person enjoys quality food in which there is enough animal protein, vitamins and mineral salts. If these ingredients are lacking in food, man will remain of relatively low stature, despite carrying within himself a different hereditary basis.
The influence of the environment on the manifestation of hereditary traits is particularly clear in the example of intelligence. It is mostly inherited. But a few people with equal intensity of natural intellectual qualities can show very different degrees of real intellectual success in life. If a person develops in an environment that activates his intellectual functions to the maximum from the beginning of life, gives them stimulation and material on which to try, then it is certain that he will develop to the extreme limits of his possibilities. A lukewarm, unstimulating, poorly cultural environment will not create a motivation in a person to fully develop his intelligence. And the negative educational influences and emotional neglect of a child can hamper its mental activity so much that the child gives the impression of a much less intelligent being than it actually is.
Inheritance, therefore, does not determine one’s mental qualities, it only enables them. Hereditary factors are more of a disposition, inclinations for personality development in a certain direction, than determinants-determining forces that inevitably drive personality development in a certain direction.
The science of inheritance – genetics – cannot yet answer with certainty the question: what psychic traits are inherited, that is, to what extent are they hereditary in nature. For the most part, the way a person expresses his psychic contents, his aspirations, thoughts and emotions is inherited. We express them with facial expressions, speech, gestures, i.e. a set of expressive movements and automatic, semi-conscious actions that we classify as psychomotor. Inheritance also greatly influences the form of temperament; it is a way of reacting of the psychic apparatus to various external and internal stimuli. Thus liveliness and sluggishness, enterprise and passivity, fieryness and lukewarmness are properties of temperament which are for the most part implanted in nature in the human personality. Intelligence, various inclinations for a certain activity and talent for a certain form of creativity also depend a lot on inherited traits.
There are frequent prejudices about what is hereditary in human personality. It is usually considered that the character is inherited, i.e. the attitude of a person towards the environment, his way of behaving in the human community and the way he uses his abilities. But of all psychic traits character is probably to the least extent hereditary in nature; much more depends on the influence of the environment on personality formation. And character is the most important component of personality. On it depends the social value of man, his willingness to cooperate constructively in the community, his ability to coexist with other people. When psychohygiene strives to ensure the healthiest possible development of a young person, then, above all, it strives to form a positive character in it. Precisely because the development of character depends a lot on the influence of the environment on the child’s psyche, psychohygiene can prevent its deformation or correct it when deviations into illness occur in it.
Of all the disease phenomena in the mental life of man, the most important is the inheritance of the tendency to suffer from endogenous psychoses. These are severe, chronic mental illnesses that occur without an adequate cause in the patient’s environment and without noticeable pathological changes in the brain. From there, they got the name “endogenous”, which means that they originate from its innate constitution. The environment has, of course, a certain share in the occurrence of these diseases, but to a much lesser extent than in the origin of other mental illnesses. Endogenous psychoses include schizophrenia, the most common of all psychoses, and manic-depressive psychosis.
Dementia is hereditary in 80% of cases. Sometimes the tendency for psychopathic personality development is inherited. But such properties also develop under the influence of very negative environmental factors. However, in the same living conditions, a man with a certain hereditary burden in terms of psychopathy will develop more easily and quickly into a seriously ill person than an individual who does not have a tendency for such development in his constitution. In other words: a healthy mental constitution must be influenced by much more negative environmental factors in order to cause sick personality development than is necessary for the psychological deformation of a man who in his inheritance has the disposition to be a psychopath. Even if a person has a tendency for sick personality development, the intensity, form and time of its manifestation will largely depend on the environment in which it develops.
The fact that various physical anomalies are inherited is very important for the formation of personality, such as awkward appearance, ugliness, extremely low or too high growth, then deafness, blindness and other defects. Such permanent bodily damage that cannot be removed often discourages a person, deprives him of self-confidence, makes him distrustful of other people and pessimistic about life, and from these emotional attitudes arise various forms of sick behavior and unhealthy emotional response.
The most common mental disorders, emotional conflicts that manifest themselves in various neurotic symptoms, are not hereditary in nature. The appearance of neuroticism is a consequence of the constant conflict between the individual and his environment.
Although a diseased predisposition in a person’s mental constitution cannot in itself cause a more serious mental health disorder, if negative environmental factors are lacking, much can still be done for better mental health if the hereditary burden of mental functions on unhealthy elements is fought. This can be done in several ways:
- By counseling spouses before marriage
- By refraining from giving birth to offspring in the case of severe disease inheritance in mental functions
- By applying the eugenic indication in the legal regulations on the approval of artificial abortions
When two people want to get married, it would be necessary to first consult a doctor about the possibility of their children developing as an expression of the inheritance of some unhealthy mental trait of one or the other partner. If this is likely to happen and you would like to have children, then it is wiser not to get married. The task of the health service is to organize marriage counseling centers that will deal with the entire medical issue of marriage and care for the mentally healthier generation.
If a child is already conceived in a mother who suffers from some inherited mental anomaly, or the father of the child is burdened with it, there is still a possibility that the abortion will be terminated.