We are the architects of our own personalities—or so the psychological development of boys least we’ve been led to believe by our mothers. The truth is, we don’t have much control over our behavior and our perceptions of the world.
Several psychological theories suggest that our personalities, our thought progressions, and even our feelings are the product of uncontrolled bodily processes. When we think of our own memory, we usually view it as consciously constructed. We see it as a list of ideas and facts that we have remembered and could describe at a moment’s notice. This memory, of which we are aware, is called explicit memory.
But on the other hand, humans have memories of tasks they cannot recall. Implicit memory is unconscious, and doesn’t require deliberate memorization. This type of memory is different than explicit memory because we are actually completely unaware of it—and it plays a significant role in controlling our behavior. As a child, for example, you may have had a tradition of going to the movie theater and ordering popcorn.
Psychologists sometimes link this tendency to impulsive behavior. Even when you’re an adult, rather than deriving a simple pleasure from the taste of popcorn alone, you unconsciously experience a physiological link to your happy childhood. Most children have made the distinction between genders by the age of three. But the million dollar question is whether or not gender attributes are determined by biology, or constructed via our social environments. The nature versus nurture debate has been long-raging in the psychological community, but the consensus now seems to be that our personality depends on a mixture of both. We’re obviously influenced by socially constructed gender roles at a young and impressionable age. Girls are told to play with Barbies, and boys with Lego.
But although our social environments encourage us down certain paths, it’s still clear that biology plays an enormous role, too. Scientists have found that one likely cause for gender distinction is hormone exposure during prenatal development. A study with rats found that male rats exposed to anti-male hormones during infancy made them less aggressive than the average male rat throughout their life span. These hormones could play a role in structurally different brain compositions of men and women. We may think that we control the development of our morals. Kohlberg developed a theory of moral progression in three stages. He studied boys aged ten to seventeen, and offered them a dilemma.
He told them a story about a man whose wife was dying of cancer. Since he couldn’t afford her medication, he stole it. The boys then explained what they thought was the right thing to do. After studying their responses, Kohlberg made the suggestion that there are three levels of moral development. The first is the pre-conventional stage, when children don’t have any empathy for others and their only motivation to do good is from fear of punishment. The second is the conventional stage, when the child’s motivation comes from wanting to be regarded as good in the eyes of others. Puberty—and the precise period when we are affected by it—plays a major role in our personalities today.
The onset of puberty ignites a form of egocentrism, or self-consciousness. Some kids worry that they’re developing too quickly, and others that they’re developing too slowly. Because teenagers go through puberty at different ages, maturity is attained at different times as well. One study found that boys who sexually matured earlier than their peers often developed social maturity earlier, too—and they would often be perceived as leaders by their peer group. Boys on the other side of the spectrum tended to become more hostile, socially withdrawn, and likely to engage in negative behavior. The results for girls are a little more complicated. Are gay people gay because they choose to be?