But new science suggests the source of abilities is much more interesting and improvisational. It turns out that everything we are is a developmental process and this includes what we get from our genes.
A century ago, geneticists saw genes as robot actors, always uttering the same lines in exactly the same way, and much of the public is still stuck with this old idea. In recent years, though, scientists have seen a dramatic upgrade in their understanding of heredity.
They now know that genes interact with their surroundings, getting turned on and off all the time. In effect, the same genes have different effects depending on who they are talking to.
"There are no genetic factors that can be studied independently of the environment," says Michael Meaney, a professor at McGill University in Canada.