There are three root causes of behaviors: genetic, epigenetic and culture. However, all three are interdependent. Here is a quick and easy way to see how they all relate to one another and how to use your awareness of this information to modify your behavior.


The genetic component is often referred to as heritability. It is essentially the percentage of behavior that results from genes passed down by our parents. Typically heritability ranges from 20 to 60%. For example personality is about 50%.


Epigenetics refers to environmental causes, such as diet, life experiences, drugs, climate, social interaction, beliefs and perceptions. Epigenetic influences do not affect DNA sequence, but rather change gene expression. A simple example would be the placebo where your beliefs can affect your biology.


Your cultural environment is not genetic and its effects on behavior can be changed by moving to another type of culture. For instance, shaking hands in the US can translate into bowing in Japan. For all practical purposes, cultural influence is epigenetic.

How All 3 Are Interdependent:

While most of our behaviors have a genetic design, their expression is through their proteins which are modified by epigenetic signals from our environment. Simply put, behavior results from the interaction between our genes and our epigenetic influences.

How to Modify Your Behavior:

Since we presently can’t change our genes, behavior modification is by modifying their proteins and thereby their expression. Consequently, epigenetic influences are required. Examples of practical methods to produce epigenetic influences include: meditation, mindfulness, cognitive therapy, social interaction, belief changes, and altruistic acts, such as acts of compassion.

If you’re interested in learning more on this topic – pick up a copy of my new book Behavioral Genes-Why We Do What We Do and How to Change