Does a person's human nature change throughout a lifetime? If a person acts badly are they destined to continue those bad acts?
Can people really change who they are?
Certainly, the age-old question of whether individuals can truly change has been a central debate across various disciplines. While both genetic predispositions and environmental experiences play critical roles in shaping us, it’s essential to recognize that the brain’s neuroplasticity allows for the formation of new neural connections throughout our lives, suggesting potential for change. The desire for change often stems from deep motivation, whether it’s due to significant life events or profound introspection. Though core personality traits may remain relatively stable, specific behaviors and attitudes can undergo significant shifts, especially with consistent effort and the aid of therapeutic interventions. Starting to change early in life, like during childhood or teenage years, can be very effective. However, people can change at any age. It’s also important to remember that what society and culture tell us can greatly influence how we act and what we believe. Often, realizing these external influences can be a catalyst for personal change. Ultimately, while some elements of our being may be resistant to transformation, with self-awareness and deliberate effort, profound personal evolution is within reach for many.
I am a student. In my opinion a human being can change. The individual would have to really want to change. One example would be someone addicted to hardcore drugs. We will call this person Sam. Sam lost his wife and kids due to his meth addiction. His wife tried to get him help by sending him to rehab. At that moment in Sam’s life he was not ready to change his bad habit, so rehab did not work. After a few years passed by, he realized how much he missed his family. Sam was ready for change. He checked himself into a rehab program and became sober. It was at this point that this individual chose to change his life around in order to get his family back. So this goes back to the original question of “Can a person change?”. Can you lead a horse to water and make them drink it? A person has to want to change in order for change to take place. You cannot force it.
I am a student. I believe that people can change throughout their lifetime. The definition of human nature, per Dictionary.com, is “the psychological and social qualities that characterize humankind, especially in contrast with other living things.” This definition clearly links psychological and social connections as factors in behavior. The biological predispositions are the foundation. The surrounding environment will play a leading role in how those predispositions are manifested. The experiences and support systems of each individual contribute motivation skills, coping mechanisms, learned behavior, maturity levels, and life strategies. An example would be a child with a family environment that lacks nurturing and support. This child is highly likely to be impulsive, attention seeking, and a potential “troublemaker.” As the child grows into an adult and selects their own environment of supportive surroundings, they improve the likeliness that the choices made are much more in line with mature and productive outcomes.
You’ve made a great point about how people change and what drives them. Sam’s story is a great example of “intrinsic motivation.” Basically, that means people do things because they truly want to, not because someone is forcing them. For Sam, it wasn’t the rehab or people telling him to change that made the difference. It was his own deep desire to be with his family again.
Your example of leading a horse to water shows the difference between being pushed to do something by others (external motivators) and wanting to do it for yourself (internal motivators). Think about it: if you’re doing something just for a prize or because you’re afraid of punishment, you might not stick with it. But if you’re doing it because you believe in it and it’s important to you, that’s when real change happens.
Absolutely, people have the capacity to evolve over time. “Human nature” refers to the inherent characteristics that define us as humans—our emotions, thoughts, and interactions. While we inherit certain characteristics at birth, our environments, and the relationships we cultivate significantly influence our development. Having a reliable support system, such as supportive family or friends, is pivotal. Like how plants require sunlight and water to flourish, we too need emotional sustenance and guidance to reach our full potential.
How often, in your own experience, have you seen a fundamental change in a person that you know?
It is hard for me to think of a specific example of a person that I have known that fundamentally changed to the degree that they seemed like a completely different person.
As a teacher I have witnessed a lot of personal growth but I don’t know if that qualifies as a fundamental change.
At the same time, I would agree that we can and do change in very significant ways especially as we age. But it is hard for me to accept that I am a different person now than I was, even though I probably am.
I would be very interested in Dr. DeFalco’s response to this question given that she has worked with trained soldiers in the military. Does military training create a fundamental change in who we are?
I also asked the same question to ChatGPT and posted the response in the AI/HN blog post.
Thank you all so much for thinking and responding to this question!!
@humannatureforum Thank you for this question. In my experience, a person’s human nature does change throughout a lifetime, it’s just a matter of degree and kind. I am not the same person I was when I was seven, and yet there is an essence of me that has remained unchanged–in part because how I was raised and the environments in which I have lived have allowed for some consistency in my nature. And I would say that the consistency element is largely rooted in what I consider an ethical compass. What I know has changed, how I relate and respond to people have changed, but my sense of right and wrong has remained consistent–if more informed over the years.
If we limit the notion of change to behaviors informed by values, or one’s ethical compass, then I would say again yes to the notion that a person’s human nature can change throughout a lifetime. As it relates to the military, we see this particularly in soldiers who have suffered moral injury after combat.
When we think of PTSD, we tend to limit our focus to the effects that result from the terror experienced in combat: bombs, shootings, etc. However, a somewhat overlooked element of PTSD is the moral injury that occurs in the aftermath of combat.
Soldiers in combat are asked to make split second decisions of a life and death nature, and it is an extraordinarily difficult task to predict what actions in a moment is the right or ethical one. Second guessing choices, and living with the aftermath of these life and death decisions, can cause a profound change in soldiers–not always for the better. The guilt and recrimination brought to bear on by themselves, their peers, their superiors, and society at large can be a burden that is too much to sustain. The weight of moral injury can profoundly change the very nature of a soldier, and how they navigate that change will often inform the rest of the person trajectory in society.
I would also add that we have seen throughout history how the effect of a traumatizing experience can fundamentally change the human nature of an individual. The classic example is the soldier Saul (~4 A.D.), on his way to Damascus intent on rounding up the followers of Christ and take them to Jerusalem to be tried, convicted, and executed. Saul, who was considered a warrior of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was determined to eliminate the group that was perceived as a dangerous defection from the Jewish Law and could result in the judgment of God. However, on the road to Damascus as Saul is approaching the city, the story is that a light from the heavens flashes all around Saul and he falls to the ground where he hears the voice of Jesus Christ. In the aftermath of this fall, Saul was blinded, subsequently healed by a man called Ananias, and thus began his conversion from Saul to Paul, from a persecutor of the followers of Jesus to one of the greatest contributors to the early Catholic tradition.
Irrespective if one believes whether the historical figure of Paul achieved his conversion in the manner reported, the history of Paul’s conversion is consistent with what we see as to the frequency and legitimacy of a personal transformation. Meaning, fundamentally changing our human nature is possible–particularly if we focus on transformations of moral or ethical behaviors. But these occurrences are rare, and often in response to some profound or traumatic event.
I am a student. I believe that change is possible, despite age. I think that environment plays a big role in trying to change. I can understand why people say when you’re old you can’t/ won’t change, or the famous saying “ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks “. It’s because the older you get the more uncomfortable the idea of change it, thus making it harder to want/ expect change, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do so. In my opinion if someone really wants to change, regardless of age, the environment would be the first place to start. With a new environment and trying/creating new habits can potentially breed the change that one wants to see it with her themselves. Some might argue that they should change their mindset/internally first and then focus on creating their new environment. I choose to say environment first, because when trying to grow past previous things you may have experienced, you must have room for your new habits, ideas, and improvements. Meaning your environment must able to foster and support the changes that you make otherwise you could regress or stay the same in that change it all.
Hello I am a student, Human nature is a complex and multifaceted concept that has been a subject of philosophical, psychological, and scientific inquiry for centuries. The question of whether a person’s human nature changes throughout a lifetime is a matter of ongoing debate. While there is no definitive answer, it is widely accepted that human nature is not static but rather dynamic and influenced by a myriad of factors. Throughout a lifetime, individuals undergo various experiences that can shape and mold their behavior and character. Childhood upbringing, education, social interactions, and personal experiences all play significant roles in influencing human nature. As people mature and learn from their experiences, their values, beliefs, and behaviors may evolve. The concept that a person destined to continue bad acts is overly deterministic. While some individuals may engage in negative behaviors due to environmental or genetic factors, it is essential to recognize the potential for personal growth and change. Human beings possess the capacity for self-reflection, empathy, and learning, which can lead to a transformation in behavior. However, breaking the cycle of bad behavior often requires effort, self-awareness, and external support. Therapies, interventions, and rehabilitation programs have been successful in helping individuals change their harmful behaviors. It is crucial to acknowledge that people can overcome their past actions and strive to lead better lives.in conclusion, human nature is not concrete, and individuals have the potential for change throughout their lifetimes. While some may struggle with negative behavior, it is not a confirmation to continue down that path indefinitely. With the right motivation and mentality, individuals can become different then their past and work towards positive transformations in their lives. Human nature is fluid, and the capacity for change is a testament to the resilience and potential for growth within each person.
Having had a few days to think about this more, and reading the posts from all of you. I am reminded of several points over the years where I really did fundamentally change the way that I approached life. I can characterize them as a shift from one way of thinking to another caused by a revelation of new ideas based on interactions with others and with my surroundings. These new ideas became internalized and began to shape my state of mind in powerful ways. One of those ideas was the concept that a focus on the everyday process that needs to be carried out on the way to a goal is fundamentally more important than the goal itself. If one gains satisfaction from the actual work that needs to be done on a step by step basis then achieving the goal is much more likely than trying to derive motivation from how satisfied you will be when you achieve the goal. There is a paradox there in the sense that I was letting go of the end goal and focusing on the process at hand which actually made the goal more achievable. This may seem incredibly obvious but at the time it was a big shift for me and it became a fundamental part of who I am.
I am a student.
I do believe that humans can change. Afterall, we are very adaptable creatures. However, I think it depends on one’s willingness to change.
I would like to use myself as an example. I am 25 now, but I reflect back on myself even 5 years ago and see how much I have grown. 5 years ago, I was in a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. I used to let my significant other belittle and beat me down. I had very little self-confidence, which made me vulnerable and weak. I never, ever stood up for myself because I was too scared to. In order to get out of that relationship, I knew that I had to make a couple changes. It took some time, but by focusing on myself and doing daily affirmations, I was able to develop the self-worth to leave that relationship. After that, I spent several years evolving into the healthiest version of myself, both inside and out. Because of the confidence that I developed, I waited to settle down until I met someone who treated me exactly how I felt I deserved to be treated. Today, I know that I will never, ever accept that type of abuse again BUT it took years to become this version of myself.
I am a student.
Change; is a word that most people often attach a negative connotation to. Not everyone likes to change, but sometimes we need to go through it to have positive things come into play with our lives. I do believe that everyone is capable of change, with the right motivation and environment.
Our environment and motivation affect us in all types of ways. It can change certain things about us like eating habits, our physical and mental health, our fears, etc. If you’re in an environment around you that doesn’t support your motivation to change, you don’t change because of a lack of reinforcement around you and vice versa. For example, if a person is experiencing depression, they can feel stuck down a rabbit hole, but if the world they surround themselves in is positive and they are motivated to get better, they can most certainly do it. So overall, I support this post and believe that people are capable of change but only in the right environment and motivation.
Thank you for sharing your insightful perspective on the relationship between environment and change. Your emphasis on nurture is indeed significant. Humans, by nature, are not just products of their genetic makeup, but also profoundly influenced by their surroundings. Environment, in many ways, serves as a canvas upon which our behaviors, habits, and identities are painted. The concept of “nurture” suggests that our surroundings, experiences, and relationships shape us. You made an excellent point that for sustainable change, one must have an environment that nurtures and supports new habits and mindsets. While the internal motivation and mindset are undeniably important, having an environment that acts as a catalyst can be crucial. This mirrors the idea that it’s not just about “planting the seed” but ensuring the soil is fertile for growth. Your thoughts encourage a more holistic approach to change, emphasizing both internal and external factors.
Thank you for sharing such a personal and powerful narrative about your journey towards self-worth and growth. It’s commendable that you’ve emerged stronger and more self-assured after enduring a challenging period in your life. Your story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for change, given one’s determination and commitment. You’ve highlighted a vital point: that willingness and inner strength can fuel transformation. While the environment plays a role, your narrative underscores the importance of internal factors, like self-reflection and daily affirmations, in fostering change. It reminds us that no matter the challenges we face, with perseverance, support, and self-belief, we can grow, adapt, and carve out a better path for ourselves. Your evolution over the years beautifully captures the essence of human adaptability and the power of self-worth. Again, thank you for being so open with us.