Why is it impossible to be "born with our personality"?


This week in Social and Emotional Learning we continued to explore how our brain makes us who we are. The main question was “Why is it IMPOSSIBLE for personality to be innate?”

The innate personality myth
Contrary to what is depicted in much popular culture and fiction - including Pixar's new movie "Soul" - babies are not born with an adult miniature brain! Babies are born with brains that are equipped to learn from experience. A second important fact is that we cannot change completely and forever. Our brains are also built for stability, which is why some things are so much easier to learn as a child and teenager than as an adult. Dr Dan Siegel's 5 minute video on the teen brain explains the changes in brain and personality that teenagers experience. 

What can and what cannot change in neurons and synapses? 
Our brains develop in an experience-dependent way. "Use it or lose it" is the key message for students who still have immense leeway to shape theirs! So although we are unlikely to have many new neurons added to our brain networks, and although these brain networks do become more stable and harder to change with myelination, what does change includes this: our neurons can grow or dissolve dendrites and synapses, whose signal strength and speed can also change greatly over the course of our lives. 

The general structure of the brain helps us understand how to manage ourselves more effectively. By using our forearm and hand as a model, we describe the "triune model" of the brain, i.e. the three parts and what each focuses on (body, feeling, thought). These three parts are interconnected and somewhat hierarchical: the brain's "roots", those that regulate our body, have the strongest influence on the "heart" and "surface" of our brain, those that regulate our feelings and thoughts. So if you want to learn more efficiently in class, start by taking great care of your body (sleep, exercise and eat well) and your relationships (take good care of your closest connections, because we are smarter when we are happy.)

The overall message is this: Your life shapes your brain. You still have significant possibility to shape it. It will become harder to do so over time.


Here is the Peardeck presentation shared with all secondary students this week.

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