Does Myers-Briggs Personality Type Run in Families?

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on August 12, 2021

I am the first-born child of two introverted Thinker-Judgers. Our summer vacations were planned in detail months in advance, right down to what time we’d leave the house. And I was right there in the thick of it, making packing lists and choosing activities that I’d write down in a spiral-bound notebook.

My younger brother likes to think he’s more spontaneous, but he’s as much of an ISTJ as my parents and I are. Typology definitely runs in our family. The question is whether it’s nature, nurture, or coincidence.

I’ve basically ruled out coincidence at this point. I’ve seen how my friends’ personalities resemble those of their parents and siblings — and in some cases, their children.

The question is, how much of our personality do we inherit and how much do we develop as a response to our environment? Does it really “run in the family,” or do we just learn it by spending so much time around our parents?

It’s a tough question to answer. One way we can learn is by looking at genetic relatives who don’t grow up together.

Nature and Nurture Face Off

Some of the strongest information we have on personality and heredity comes from the famous “twin studies,” which came out of the University of Minnesota between 1979 and 1999. In that time, researchers followed more than 350 pairs of twins, some raised in the same household and others raised apart.

Theoretically, if personality is innate rather than developed, twin pairs would be similar whether they grew up together or not. But if environment matters more than genetics, the twins raised apart would have more variance in personality.

The result? Growing up separately didn’t seem to make twins diverge in terms of personality. If anything, twins raised apart were more similar. Researchers think this might happen because twins in the same household often emphasize their differences. In separate households, personality genes are free to express themselves without the person’s interference.

Overall though, there’s no clear winner in the nature vs. nurture debate. Between 40% and 60% of personality differences seem to be genetically based, but it’s a sliding scale, and it’s hard to tease out one from the other.

It Depends on the Trait

Some personality dimensions seem to run in families more than others. Take Extraversion vs Introversion, for example.

Extraverts direct their energy outward and gain more energy from being around others. Introverts tend to process things internally and feel drained quickly without enough alone time. According to genetic modeling, about 60% of the differences in Introversion vs Extraversion seems to come from genetics.

The same is true for differences in Thinking and Feeling. Thinkers lead with logic, using facts rather than feelings to make decisions. Feelers decide based on their values and how their actions would make others feel. If your parents are Thinkers, you’re more likely to be a Thinker, too. (Thanks, Mom and Dad.)

Environment has more of an influence on Sensing vs Intuition, which indicates how you collect and process information. Some people are Sensors, relying on tangible data and past experiences. Others are Intuitives and rely more on instinct. Up to 40% of where you fall on that spectrum comes from your genes.

Judgment vs Perception is similar. Judgers structure their lives carefully and make plans before acting, while Perceivers are more spontaneous. Like Sensing and Intuition, this tends to depend slightly more on the environment.

Beyond Genetics

When we talk about something “running in families,” we usually assume DNA drives the bus. It’s clear that genes play a role, but what about environmental influences?

For most of us, it’s difficult to tease out heredity from how we were raised. I’ll never know if I’m an introvert because I’m genetically wired to be one, or because my parents avoided crowds and encouraged my need for alone time.

Children come into the world with certain temperaments. Some are fussy; others are more easygoing. Some are shy, while others seek out social interactions. Parenting can either affirm these tendencies or offer alternatives.

A friend of mine was born an introvert. Her parents, however, were community organizers who ran large events and hosted people from out of town frequently. Her parents wanted their kids to participate in these visits, so her Extraverted tendencies got plenty of reinforcement.

My friend is now a town selectperson and head of the recycling committee for her child’s school. She’s become much more of an ambivert (the popular term given to those who fall closer to the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum). She’s not a full-on Extravert, but she can handle plenty of social time.

Parents can’t “teach” a solidly Thinker child to become a Feeler, but they can help their child develop emotional intelligence. In time, that child will learn to consider emotions and values as well as facts when making decisions.

Family Dynamics and Personality

There’s no doubt that family influences your personality, and it’s not just parents who play roles in the process. A family is a multifaceted unit, and everything about it affects who you turn out to be. That includes whether you’re the oldest, youngest, or somewhere in the middle.

At Truity, we did an in-house study to look at the influence of birth order on personality. We found that someone’s place in the family significantly affects their Myers-Briggs type.

First-born children were significantly more likely to self-identify as Thinker-Judgers. (Well, I feel seen.) Middle children were the Feelers and more likely to be Extraverts. The babies of the family are also Extraverts and Perceivers. It makes sense. Perceivers are more adaptable, and youngest kids have to do a lot of adapting.

It’s not really an argument for personality type running in families, but it does show that the family environment plays a pretty big role. And who knows? Maybe that firstborn-child tendency toward logic and organization is stronger if parents encourage those traits.

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

All of this information leads us to a pretty straightforward conclusion. Personality type is part nature, part nurture. Not only that, but nurture affects how our nature expresses itself.

We’re a product of our genetic families and the people who raised us, whether or not those are the same people. We’re also the product of our school and community environments, not to mention a variety of other factors we haven’t identified yet.

What about you? Do you see your own personality type in your family members? In what way? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t hesitate to share your best “oh no, I’m becoming my mother/father” stories. We love those!

Laura DeCesare

Laura is a freelance writer and ghostwriter focused mainly on mental health, wellness, and self-care. She received her master's degree in Expressive Therapies from Lesley University but discovered she is far too much a Thinker and Judger to be a therapist. She now uses her knowledge of psychology and human behavior to connect with people via words. Her Introvert self is much happier with this arrangement.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

Comments

Jena (not verified) says...

Um no. I am the only infj in my family. My mom is a ENFJ. My Dad is a INTJ. My Brother is a ENFP. 

Kyrie (not verified) says...

Could it be you got the Introversion from your dad and the NFJ from your mom?

To me, your personality type looks very much like there was genetic influence from your parents.

Even your brother`s ENFP is not far from your mom`s ENFJ.

The article does not deny environmental influence, either, so I don`t see what the disagreement is about.

Big Red (not verified) says...

I have to agree.  I'm an ENFJ. . . and as a male, it's unusual.  I have an extended cousin who is also strawberry blond and ENFJ as a male. And I know ONE other ENFJ.  I'm very empathic with those individuals.  I know very few others.  A few fun-loving and playful ENTJ types, but very few ENFJ. . the ENFJ cousin and I act alike, gesture alike, and have many other things in common that may have to do more with MC1R. . . 

My mother is INTP, and father is ENTP. . . , and neither one is a redhead although mother is chestnut-auburn brown. I have no siblings to compare, but my second cousin, who is one of my closest friends, and somewhat like a brother, has an ENFJ spouse.  Most of my friends are E types.  I tend to be exasperated with I's who are not at least situationally E.  

Marcia (not verified) says...

I definitely agree with the introvert vs. extrovert as being genetic, because I am one kid out of 8, and my parents and all my siblings are introverted. I am not really sure about the rest though because for some of us, the I is all we have in common.

Hanna2304 (not verified) says...

This makes so much sense. My bio father and I are both ENTP's. My stepfather ENTJ, my mother/young stepbrother ENFJ and my older stepbrother ESTP. 

All of us are extroverted and introverted people are shocked when they come over and stay "just for dinner" for five hours. 

We also quite argue a lot, about politics and whatever and when it gets heated the feelers calm us down. 

Gwyn says...

I'm not really sure what I think about this....

I am an only child and I am an ENFJ. My dad is a ISFJ and my mom is a ESTJ.

My dad is about 70% feeling, and my mom is about 70% thinking.

I am 52% feeling, and I can be logical at times. 

I am about 60% intuition, and I have a good gut feeling/ sixth sense, but I am the only iNtuitive in my family. I think the cognitive functions affect my personality a lot, as I typed as ESFJ before but don't think it fits me and my personality.

I didn't get the extroversion from my mom as she is 50-60% extroverted and my dad is VERY introverted. I am 80ish% extroverted and can be super crazy at times. I was in the middle of introversion and extroversion when I was younger, but when I entered primary school and got to know extroverted friends, I became SUPER extroverted in less than a year :P 

It might just be the environment I was raised in, but all of us are judging personalities and enjoy routine rather than chaos (I am actually only around 60% judging while my parents are around 80%.)

FYI, my 3 besties are: ENFP, ENTJ and ESFP while I have a good friend who is ISTJ. 

Brian Supple (not verified) says...

Well I am an ENTP and as far as I know I am the only one in my family. I've always felt like the "odd" one out considering I'm pretty sure the rest of them are the total opposites. It wasn't a picnic growing up that way, especially when personality types were never really considered. They always thought I was the big mouth who wanted to argue with everyone but in reality I basically wanted some explanation on why things were the way they were and if I thought there was a better way I wasn't wired to not say anything..

Tivona (not verified) says...

I'm an intj, and my brother is an istj. Our mom is istj, and our dad is entj. I think we got our personalities from genetics. I remember from a young age i was a big picture thinker and liked to play alone. My dad was often encouraging me to be more social (for over 20 years), but i stubbornly refused. I dont think environment has much influence. People can pretend to be someone they're not, but inside it will still make them uncomfortable and they wont be their true selves.

Tivona (not verified) says...

But I also think its true that most kids start out SFP but can grow up to be different. Kids just naturally tend to be spontaneous, feelers rather than thinkers, and focussed on the present rather than the future. Maturity can bring out planning, logic, and big picture thinking. But not all adults grow out of SFP. My husband is a strong P at age 40 and seems like he will never change in that regard even when logic and experience show him that being spontaneous rather than planning can lead to negative consequences.

Francesca89 (not verified) says...

I am so different compare to my parents. I am pretty sure that my dad is an ISTJ and my mum an esfj, but I am an ENFP. My older brother was I think an IxFP. My mum and I always wondering why I'm so different. She always said as a joke they most have mixed up the baby's in hospital (I look like my mum though) 

NiTeFiSe (not verified) says...

Well according to your theory, I must be adopted then..

INTJ with ESFP mum ESFJ dad and ISFP younger brother..

Im the firstborn and had to be the dad for my mum and brother..as our dad left us when i was 10, now he still calls us about twice a year..

My whole life my parents think I have mental problems, since I am so different from them - the way I think and behave.. My brother is the only one I can trust in this family.. he accepts me for who I am..

GenmMaster (not verified) says...

My dad looks like ISFJ, my mom I'm pretty sure an ENFJ, my younger brother looks like a XNFP, and I'm an INTJ. How do you think I can be the only thinker in my family??

alazea says...

I'm not sure... me and my sister are Introverted and Intuitive, but both my parents are Extroverted and Sensing. I'm also a Perciever, but neither of my parents are. 

Yay! The Optimist ENFP 7w6! (not verified) says...

Cool! I am an ENFP with enfp dad and isfj mum. I am quite an ambivert and  maybe a bit insensitive. So, this makes perfect sense now!!

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