Producer Commentary

PROGRAM: DNA & Behavior

AUTHOR: Claire Schoen

November 1998:

Producing the documentary "DNA and Behavior: Is Our Fate in Our Genes?" has helped me understand why it is that my daughter Rachel, age thirteen, staggers around in high-heeled shoes while my son Jonah, age nine, considers a "good" movie to be one in which at least one person gets his face blown off by a semi-automatic. Part of it is peer pressure. And advertising. And social expectations. But there is definitely something else going on as well.

How is our personality formed? And what are the influences that push us towards becoming who we are? Working on this show has given me the opportunity to read, research and talk to some of the best minds in the field of behavioral genetics. I am learning about the complex interaction between genetics and environment in the creation of our personalities. It's not a matter of "nature vs. nurture," but how they work together, that determines who we are.

These questions have interested me for a long time. But they took on a new meaning for me when I decided to have children. Before becoming a mother, I had some strong ideas of how I was going to raise them - and how they were going to turn out. I had seen plenty of pre-teen girls prancing about like wannabe prostitutes. And young men wrapped up in a fantasy-world of violence and war games. I knew better than that. And I would teach my children to know better as well. There would be no gender stereotyping in this household.

Then came my beautiful, healthy baby girl. She was showered with a wealth of toy trains, big wooden blocks, shiny red dump trucks. And, oh yes, a silly old rag doll that Grandma gave her. Rachel only had eyes for that doll. For Jonah's first birthday, I brought home the perfect doll. Movable arms. Working eyelids. Expensive. In a month it was part of Rachel's, by then rather extensive, doll collection. Yet, Rachel's wonderful set of building blocks sat in the closet until Jonah discovered them. They haven't been put away since.

What did I do wrong?? Of course, not all boys play with blocks and not all girls play house. But there is something to the old adage, "boys will be boys," as my children taught me well.

So, it was not without some self-interest that I posed questions for the documentary to a number of experts-from behavioral geneticists to anthropologists. Can children be taught to love reading? Or is intellectual curiosity something you are born with? And if so, is this a trait that is "passed down" from mother to child? Why is it that I am organized and orderly to the point of compulsion, while my children's rooms look like bomb sites? Isn't there a personality trait for orderliness that is genetically influenced?

The answers I got were quite interesting and enlightening, but far from simple. And I hope that this show can help others to see themselves and those around them a little more clearly, as it has done for me.