We look like our parents because we inherit their genes. But what about personality traits, like the way we handle stress? "Highly anxious mothers have been found to have offspring that inherit some of these anxious traits," said Frances Champagne, a Researcher at McGill University.
Children of less stressed-out moms grow up to be less anxious. But is this nature, something that¦s passed on in our genes, or is it nurture, something shaped by our environment? Researchers say it¦s both. You have to first have the gene, and then the environment. "Without the gene you'll get no gene expression, without an environment you'll get no gene expression," said Champagne.
Champagne studied this in rats. When a mother rat licks and grooms her pups it wires their brains to better handle stress when they grow up. It turns out that the female offspring then pass this on to the next generation. "Maternal environment can basically take the genetic make up of the offspring and selectively express some genes and not others and ultimately effect how they respond to stress, how anxious they are behaviorally, and how they function as mothers," says Champagne.
But could this be true for humans? "The infant-mother interactions are a little different. But the physiology in the brain of the rat are quite comparable," said Champagne. Suggesting that mother nature has a sister named nurture for us too.
The researchers believe that parental care can off set negative environmental influences on the brain's development as well. For more information on this subject (click here).