Agents of Influence

“It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.” – Brazilian Samba instructor

If there is any merit to the previous post proposing a connection between actual observed behaviors and the shapes that our Individual Behavior Curves or profiles can take, then the Next Why arises: Why are these curves shaped like this?

Is there some way to connect a curve with the five major agents of influence on behavior: the internal forces of Temperament, Personality, the balance of Self & Values, and Integrity, and the wealth of external forces we are confronted with in life?

I suspected that a possible answer had been marinating for a while, but I needed the previous post for a number of things to come together. I also needed an external catalyst, which I experienced recently playing cards with friends.

To press ahead, however, now seems to me to be a bit of a hike, or more like a journey – There and Back Again. But first, I need to go back and try to lay a foundation. Bear with me; this might be a long post I think it will be worth it.

The Simpler Games People Play

Remember when you were kids (or were parents with kids) and you played the card game of War? 54 cards (jokers included), shuffled randomly and dealt out to the players. Each player flipped over his or her top card and the highest card took that play. Repeated until there’s one winner with all the cards. (Yes, when trying to teach kids to share and play together nicely and ending up with one winner and a bunch of losers is probably the reason why it was only played on desperate occasions).

But the focus here is on the game itself. It has some useful aspects that are going to be helpful in a minute. First, while all of the available information (all 54 cards, the known knowns) is present, the Incomplete Information (as known unknowns) is that no one knows which cards are where (unless they peeked at their own deal), and in what order they will be played. Second, this Incomplete Information is revealed only as each top card is flipped simultaneously. Players do not know (or aren’t supposed to know) what card will be played. It is all chance; there is no choice (although there might be a little free-style ‘peeking’). In other words, as each play follows, you play what you were dealt, in the order you were dealt it. No choice.

That’s our foundation. Now let’s build.

Consider another more ‘complex’ game, for instance Whist, my catalyst, which in our case for four players is slightly modified, as follows:

In the first round, all 52 cards are dealt (13 tricks) and Spades is defined to be trump. The person to the left of dealer declares first for the number of tricks he/she expects to win. Declaring then continues around the table (total trick declarations do not have to add to 13, at least how we play). The person to the left of dealer leads, and each player follows according to the suit led, except if void he/she must trump. For the second round, only 48 cards (12 tricks) are dealt, Hearts are trump, and players declare again. For the third round, 44 cards (11 tricks) are dealt, and Diamonds are trump. The deal/declare/lead rotation continues as the number of tricks decreases down to 1 trick with trump changing each hand, and then play continues by increasing the number of tricks and changing trump until 13 tricks are reached.

Now, as above, focus on the game sequence itself. In the first round, everyone knows all cards are in play (the known knowns), but the Incomplete Information is that no one knows which cards are in the other three persons hands (the known unknowns). They can only partially guess this missing information by inference from the respective bids. The person with the lead has 13 cards from which to pick, and thus he/she has a choice: do I want to lose this trick or win it, and with which suit? The card led fills in some of the Incomplete Information by showing the suit and card value, but it also becomes the trigger for the next player’s reaction: do I want to win this trick (play high), or lose it (play low), or cover the lead and hope the next player plays higher? Player 2 now has to make a similar choice. His/her play now becomes the trigger for Player 3, who now has more information (two cards) to influence his/her choice of play. And ultimately Player 4, who now has all the information for this one trick, must make his/her choice, win the trick or lose it.

As play continues with a decreasing number of tricks you will notice the increasing agony of the decreasing information: when you are playing for only one dealt trick (your card is the known known, their cards the unknown knowns, the high card is the known unknown, and the 48 undealt cards comprise the bulk of the Incomplete Information, the unknown unknowns). 1 Fun.

One could also consider other card games as many of the Incomplete Information, trigger, and choice elements are similar; but as for me, I choose Whist.

Rabbit Trail

So, how does the above apparent rabbit trail help us begin to understand the interrelationship between Temperament, Personality, Self/Values, Integrity, and external forces when it comes to behaviors? To approach that, I propose not to duplicate how I began this blog by starting somewhere near the middle, but actually starting point by point at the beginning: with Temperament. (If you’re pressed for time, just read the main Points).


Starting Point:  Temperament describes the combination of innateinherited mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person – their natural predisposition. Or, more particularly, a person or animal’s nature, especially as it permanently affects their behavior.

From the 1930s the dominant view was that, other than being born with a general capacity to learn, human behavior was explained almost exclusively by forces outside the individual. It was the environment.

In 1971 when the idea was proposed that “… the genes we were born with provide, along with the rest of our functional selves, the basis of our intelligence, temperament and personality,” 2 it received little traction in academia and practice. Only in the late 1980s, based upon studies of human twins, did our understanding of personality and temperament begin to shift away from culture and environment toward genes. In 2011 a major review stated, “A century of familial studies of twins, siblings, parents and children, adoptees, and whole pedigrees has established beyond a shadow of a doubt, that genes play a crucial role in the explanation of all human differences, from the medical to the normal, the biological to the behavioral.” 3

Anyone who has had more than two children recognizes that differences in temperament show up even as infants before many behavioral responses can be learned. They are innate, inherited; they come in the package that is you.

In other words, it’s in our genes.

DNA, Genes, Chromosomes, and Genomes

And This Point:  DNA is the double helix macromolecule that is located in a cell’s nucleus and is the basis of life that carries all the coded genetic information necessary for the functions of life and the transmission of those traits which are our innate, inherited temperament. Within the huge DNA molecule there are “shorter” segments that each code (provide the instructions) for a particular cell’s synthesis of a protein necessary for a particular cell function, including DNA repair. That segment is called a gene. There are about 20,700 human genes.

(If you are comfortable with DNA and genes, go ahead and skip forward to Genotypes, Phenotypes and Breast Cancer below.)

The transmission of genetic information occurs by a marvelous process where the two complementary A-B strands of the ‘parental’ DNA double helix are slowly separated, and each single strand begins to build a new double helix by adding in the exact same sequence the components that were in the other complementary strand. B begins to add the components of A, and A begins to add the components of B, until at the end there are two identical ‘daughter’ double helixes. The two separate DNA strands are now able to carry the genetic information to wherever they may roam.

Within a cell, DNA is organized into dense protein-DNA complexes called chromosomes that are located in the nucleus. The genes reside in these chromosomes, and there may be tens of thousands of genes linked together in chains.

We have 46 chromosomes in our cells; we inherited 23 from one parent, and 23 from the other. When cells divide in the human body, the above replication of the DNA maintains the integrity of that person’s DNA, genes, and traits for the next generation of cell growth. But when procreation occurs, the fertilized egg contains half of the genetic material from each parent, transmitting some traits from each.

The entire set of genetic instructions carried by an organism is termed its genome.

Genotypes, Phenotypes, and Breast Cancer

Now A New Point: Where we move into new territory is by distinguishing the following: a Genotype is the set of genetic instructions that may be contained in one gene, a configuration of genes, or an entire genome. A Phenotype, however, constitutes the actual physical and mental manifestations, attributes, and characteristics of the individual.

Getting from the genetic instructions to the physical reality is a major part of the story.

If the gene is considered to be the carrier of inherited information, then a simple (and often incorrect and misunderstood but widely promoted) conclusion is: having the gene turns the trait “on,” not having it turns the “trait “off.”

Not so.

Research has shown that multiple genes as well as the environment play a role in the manifestation of an organism’s attributes and characteristics.

Where Mendel’s plant discovery was that a gene determines a physical feature (and where our education typically stopped), later work would extend that idea to cover multiple genes and multiple features as well as incorporate additional important factors. Decades of further study brought us to,

This Important Point:  An inherited Genotype + Environment + Triggers + Chance determine an expressed Phenotype 4

The importance and impact of this Point cannot be underestimated (although it continues to be grossly misunderstood). It addresses the observation that identical genomes (i.e., identical twins) develop into dissimilar personhoods with non-identical temperaments, personalities, fates, and choices.

The influence (or lack thereof) of this Point in discussions of one of the most visible, current and active current human concerns, that of breast cancer, deserves special attention. To do that, we need to talk further about genes. An excellent read and source is The Gene by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Siddhartha Mukherjee, from which I have drawn major points including the following pertinent paragraph,

“In humans, a mutant BRCA1 gene (Blog: normally a DNA repair gene) increases the risk for breast cancer – but not all women carrying the BRCA1 mutation develop cancer. Such trigger-dependent or chance-dependent genes are described as having partial or incomplete “penetrance” – i.e., even if the gene is inherited its capacity to penetrate into an actual attribute is not absolute. Or a gene may have variable “expressivity” – i.e., even if the gene is inherited, its capacity to become expressed as an actual attribute varies from one individual to another. One woman with the BRCA1 mutation might develop an aggressive, metastatic variant of breast cancer at age thirty. Another woman with the same mutation might develop an indolent variant; and yet another might not develop breast cancer at all. … You cannot use just the genotype – BRCA1 mutation – to predict the final outcome with certainty.” 5

The effects of Environment, Triggers, and Chance are real and not some set of fudge factors.

Gene Cascades

Important Point:   Individual genes specify individual functions, but the working interrelationships among them, a cascade among genes, allows physiology (including behavior) to develop.

Why we observe the above is also related to the question of “Why multiple genes?” which itself arises from the question, “How can units of heredity (genes) generate the bewildering complexity of organisms?” Once again, for brevity, an important observation from The Gene,

“The answer lies in organization and interaction. A single master-regulatory gene might encode a protein with rather limited function: an on-and-off switch for 12 other target genes, say. But the activity may depend upon the concentration of the protein, and the protein may be layered in a gradient across the body of an organism. It may turn on 12 targets in one part, 8 in another, and 3 in another. These targets may then intersect with other protein gradients and activate/suppress other genes.

By mixing and matching hierarchies, gradients, switches, and circuits of genes and proteins, an organism can create the observed complexity of its anatomy and physiology.” 6

And this Gene Cascade can work in two directions: mutations in a single gene can cause diverse manifestations of disease in diverse organs, as well as the converse: multiple genes can influence a single aspect of physiology.

At this point, in utero, we can simplify the above this way, (only showing the influence on the innate Temperament),

Nature or Nurture?

Critical Point:   The link between Genes, Environments, Triggers, and Chance (the previous Point) confronts the (oft misunderstood) debate that continues to rage: Nature or Nurture, Genes or Environment? The fact is that identity, personality and behaviors are determined by Nature And Nurture, by Genes And Environment, Intrinsic And Extrinsic inputs or forces, but not uniformly.

At the top of the gene cascade Nature works forcefully and unilaterally (e.g., male or female, short or tall, blue eyes or brown). At the bottom of the cascade, in contrast, a straight genetic view fails to satisfy or explain the observed phenotype. 7

The variations that one inherits from one’s parents, mixed and matched, specify variations in cellular and developmental processes that ultimately result in variations in physiological states (phenotypes). If these variations affect master-regulatory genes at the tip of a hierarchy, the effect can be binary (Either/Or) and strong (e.g., male versus female; short statured versus normal height; blond or redhead).

More commonly, however, the gene variations lie in lower rungs of cascades of information and can only cause alterations in what are called propensities, or tendencies. Often, dozens of genes are required to work With each other (Blog: i.e., And/And) to create these propensities or predispositions. 8

What happens next is the combined interaction of Nature With Nurture.


Necessary Point:  Personality refers to acquired individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Personality builds on Temperament through the action of Nature With Nurture.

The propensities or tendencies mentioned above further interact With diverse environmental cues or triggers and chance to affect diverse outcomes – including developing variations in form, function, behavior, personality, and temperament, (Blog: italics mine) identity, and fate, but only by making certain outcomes more or less probable. 9 In other words, this is the course of development of an Individual Culture, described earlier.

Pause for An Observation:   Unfortunately, at this point there is still a gap between the definition of Personality above and the variations that result from interactions with these “diverse environmental cues, triggers, and chance.” So far, if you look carefully, we have been dealing with inanimate molecules, genes, and proteins that result in physiological forms and functions. While not specifically stated, the implication is also present that these “diverse environmental cues, triggers, and chance” are also inanimate forces.

Eureka Point: What is missing or not yet identified, I propose, is a critical aspect of Nurture. By introducing Nurture, we have also introduced agents to supply it, and those agents are cognitive, thinking, decision-making human beings. So critical is this fact that I think it needs to be added to the earlier Genotype Point – the purely human activity of choice,

What should be understood from this is that while a particular Genotype is an inanimate given, the Environment, Triggers, Chance, and Choice can each independently vary in intensity and influence, and they can each result either from inanimate circumstances/forces or from circumstances/forces initiated by another human agent, or both. So our Genotype Point should more realistically look like this,


In other words, Nature With Nurture, in unpredictable proportions.

Now the connection with our Whist rabbit trail above should become clear. We start with what we were dealt (Genotype), react to our Environment, Triggers, and Chance, mix in some Choices based upon Temperament and Personality, and come out with behavior.


Boring but Necessary Point:  Self – a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.

Important Point:  Values – a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.

Really Important Concept & Point:  The Self/Values ratio results from separating all of an individual’s principles and standards into those purely focused on oneself (Self, selfishness) and those focused on others (Values, externally oriented).

The concept of or value of Self that is born into us is primarily directed towards survival (reflexive), with a heavy focus on the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy, before extending to fulfilling other wants and needs (introspection).

While Nature in the Nature-Nurture debate is primarily considered to be our ‘pre-wiring” and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors, Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception (beginning in utero), e.g., the product of exposure, experience and learning on an individual. Unfortunately, the influence of choice on Nurture by human agents isn’t mentioned.

Really Important Hypothesis:  When applied to an individual, Nurture is the intentional or unintentional actions (Choices) of parents, family, clan, and tribe (agents) operating in a reasonably small or limited “environmental bubble” to develop these Values. Nurture combined with the other external forces molds their Temperament, develops their Personality, and consequently shapes an individual’s way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Since Culture is basically how people think, this is, in actuality, a Regression to the Cultural Mean, whether intentional or not.

Initially, in infancy, Values are imposed by the external Choices of action by parents and family. Eventually, with development, a child discovers he/she can also choose how to respond to the events around him or her (typically at about age two), and their discovered element of Choice is now thrown into the mix with all of the other behavior choices of people around them.

We don’t often discover until later in life that the behavioral choices made by adult agents around us create not only our values, but the memories, responses, and triggers (baggage) that will later affect our own behaviors in response to events later in life.

At this stage, the combining effects of Genes, Environment, Choices, and Chance can begin to look like this,


Subtle Point:   Integrity is the character attribute, the fortitude to hold to one’s Values, especially in difficult, stressful, or threatening circumstances.

We often blur the concepts of Values and Integrity and misuse the word Integrity to describe someone who holds to externally imposed common societal values (i.e., a cultural mean), but we describe a person who holds to their own (sleeper or hidden) Values as lacking Integrity. It should be taken into consideration that an individual’s fortitude in consistently holding to his/her set of Values shows greater Integrity (though we may disagree with them) than someone who says one thing and does another.

True Integrity is when your Practiced Behaviors align with your Professed Behaviors.

Conclusion, from our Cascade of Points

The shape of our Individual Behavior Curve is not a predetermined aspect of our Nature, our inherited genome. It’s a bit more complex.

While we are most likely unaware of our genotype, our developing physiology is very aware of it. We begin engaging with, or being influenced by, our environment in utero, where parental choices and/or chance events can greatly influence overall development.

After birth, our expanding environment will present both positive and negative influences brought about by choices (parent’s, other’s, ours) as well as chance. These influences can become or create triggers that can affect inanimate physiological responses (e.g., smoking or x-rays leading to cancer) or behavioral responses (e.g., claustrophobia, anger, theft, philanthropy), or both.  Even colors are triggers affecting human behavior.

All this has similarities to the Brazilian view of the Samba: “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.” Or, in the case of our Individual Behavior Curve, what others, chance and the environment did to it before some of us realized we needed to choose to take over its development and maintenance.

The reality is that all of the elements in this ongoing process, the combined negative and positive effects of Genes, Environment, Triggers, Chance, and Choice over time, influence and shape our Individual Behavior Curves, similar to the following,

The good news is that life is also an ongoing learning process and, if we choose, we can recognize, adapt, and change the shape of that curve to our (and other’s) benefit.

Why is all of this important? Because our individual behaviors control our future more than any variations in our genes. Genetic variations/mutations are selected over millennia, but cultural and individual variations/mutations, for better or worse, can be introduced and selected in just a few years.

For better or worse, through our behaviors, we will always be agents who influence others.


  1. I couldn’t resist this reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s oft maligned quote. In fact, the four categories of known knowns, unknown knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns perfectly describe living in a world of Incomplete or Missing Information. Only those who fall under Fundamental Principle 7c (they don’t “get” that they don’t “get” something, but think they do) would continue to propagate their misunderstanding (of the quote and Incomplete Information).
  2. Genes, Dreams, and Realities, M. Burnet, 1971, quoted in The Gene, pp. 379.
  3. E. Turkheimer, quoted in The Gene, pp. 487.
  4. The Gene, pp. 106-7.
  5. The Gene, pp. 107.
  6. The Gene, pp. 195-6.
  7. The Gene, pp. 368-9.
  8. The Gene, 387.
  9. The Gene, 387.


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 04: Games People Play, 05: People, 06: Incomplete Information, 10: Integrity, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 15: Baggage, 16: Culture, 17: Choice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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