50 Inherited Traits Examples

inherited traits examples and definition, explained below

Inherited traits refer to the physical or behavioral features transferred from parents to offspring through genes. They are juxtaposed to acquired traits, which we develop through environmental, social, and contextual factors.

The process of transmission occurs during reproduction, where genes—the basic units of heredity—located in the DNA of each parent combine to form the genetic make-up of the offspring (Malmir, Farhud, & Khan Ahmadi, 2016).

These traits include features like height, eye color, hair color, and the susceptibility to certain diseases.

Trait inheritance is the foundation of evolution. Short and straightforward, evolution is a process driven by genetic variation and natural selection. Variations are created by genes, and these variations are passed between generations.

Through the process of natural selection, traits that enhance survival and reproduction tend to prevail (Jantsch, 2019).

Inherited Traits Examples

  1. Eye color
  2. Hair color
  3. Hair texture (straight, wavy, curly)
  4. Skin color
  5. Freckles or no freckles
  6. Cleft chin
  7. Earlobe attachment (attached or free-hanging)
  8. Height
  9. Natural pitch of voice
  10. Widow’s peak
  11. Dimples
  12. Nose shape
  13. Finger length
  14. Toe length
  15. Handedness (right or left-handedness)
  16. Eye shape
  17. Presence or absence of male pattern baldness
  18. Tendency toward obesity
  19. Lactose intolerance
  20. Ability to roll tongue
  21. Tolerance to spicy foods
  22. Hitchhiker’s thumb (straight or bent back)
  23. Gap between front teeth
  24. Taste preference for bitter substances
  25. Number of fingers or toes (as in polydactylism)
  1. Natural muscle build
  2. Double-jointedness
  3. Longevity or lifespan
  4. Tendency for acne
  5. Skin type (oily, dry, combination)
  6. Facial hair density in men
  7. Breast size in women
  8. Colorblindness
  9. Presence or absence of moles
  10. Natural scent or body odor
  11. Shape of fingernails
  12. Alcohol tolerance
  13. Tendency to develop allergies
  14. Resistance or susceptibility to certain diseases
  15. Blood type
  16. Eye disorders like nearsightedness or farsightedness
  17. Presence or absence of wisdom teeth
  18. Size of Adam’s apple
  19. Foot arch height (flatfootedness or high arches)
  20. Size and shape of ears
  21. Resting metabolic rate
  22. Ability to tan or burn in the sun
  23. Cheek dimples
  24. Sleep patterns (early bird or night owl tendencies)
  25. Propensity for freckling or pigmentation after sun exposure.

How Hereditary Traits Work

In humans, the inheritance of traits is a complex process (Stansfield, 2011). For instance, traits like skin color are polygenic (determined by more than one gene), leading to a wide range of variations within the population.

Furthermore, recent research suggests that the environment can cause alterations in gene expression, a concept often referred to as epigenetics (Cabej, 2012).

It is essential to understand this nuance. Traits do not pop up out of thin air. They are controlled by genes that are passed down from one generation to the next, and these genes can only have come from a parent (Berent, 2020).

One common misconception about inherited traits is that they are solely dependent on one’s parents. Although parents greatly influence the traits of their offspring, variation also comes from mutations, sexual recombination, and potentially from the external environment (Cabej, 2012).

Example: Consider the heredity of eye color. Parents carry genes for eye color. If both parents carry the gene for blue eyes, their child is likely to have blue eyes (Stansfield, 2011). However, if one parent carries a gene for brown eyes—which is dominant over blue eyes—the child could feasibly have brown eyes. Additionally, an unexpected mutation could introduce a unique color variation not present in the parent genes.

Humans have made significant strides in understanding inheritance. Now, modern technological advancements are allowing us to look even deeper at the molecular level. Understanding the flow of hereditary information, Darwin’s theory from 150 years ago, is still fundamental in today’s biological research (Liu & Chen, 2018).

Today, researchers are working to understand how variations at the molecular level can affect phenotype expression and cause diseases. Shaping our understanding of human nature, these inherited traits provide a comprehensive narrative of our physical and psychological make-up (Berent, 2020).

Profile: Gregor Mandel (The Father of Genetics)

Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk and biologist in the 19th century, profoundly impacted our understanding of inherited traits. His pioneering work laid the foundation for the field of genetics. He conducted extended experiments with pea plants (Pisum sativum), observing how traits such as seed shape, flower color, and plant height passed from one generation to the next (Stansfield, 2011).

Mendel’s scientific investigations led him to propose three significant principles that fundamentally shape our understanding of inherited traits. These principles are the law of segregation, the law of independent assortment, and the principle of dominance (Malmir, Farhud, & Khan Ahmadi, 2016).

  • The law of segregation states that each organism has two alleles for each trait, and these alleles are segregated during the formation of gametes (sperm or egg cells), so each gamete carries only one allele for each trait. This mechanism explains why offspring have traits from both parents (Stansfield, 2011).
  • The law of independent assortment postulates that the alleles of different genes are passed onto the offspring independently, leading to various combinations of traits. For instance, the inheritance of an allele for seed shape does not impact the inheritance of an allele for flower color.
  • The principle of dominance explains why one trait can be expressed over another. Mendel observed that certain traits in hybrid plants (offspring of plants differing in one or more traits) were expressed, while others were not. He discovered that there are dominant and recessive traits, setting the foundation for the understanding of dominant and recessive inherited traits (Liu & Chen, 2018).

Considering the pea plants experiments, Mendel cross-pollinated plants with yellow peas (dominant trait) and green peas (recessive trait). All first-generation plants had yellow peas. Yet, when these first-generation plants reproduced, one out of every four second-generation plants had green peas. This outcome was entirely consistent with his principles of inheritance (Stansfield, 2011).

Dominant vs Recessive Inherited Traits

Dominant and recessive refer to how specific traits, diseases, or conditions are handed down from parents to their offspring through genetic codes.

Each cell in the body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half from the mother and half from the father, resulting in a total of 46 chromosomes. These chromosomes carry genes, which are responsible for influencing traits in a person (Stansfield, 2011).

Dominant traits are those that are expressed when at least one copy of the dominant allele (a version of a gene) is present in the genotype (the individual’s genetic make-up). In other words, if an individual inherits a dominant allele from either parent, the dominant trait will be expressed (Malmir, Farhud, & Khan Ahmadi, 2016).

For example, in the case of eye color, the allele for brown eyes is dominant. This means that if a person has one allele for brown eyes and one for blue eyes, the person will have brown eyes (Stansfield, 2011).

Recessive traits, on the other hand, require two copies of the recessive allele in order to be expressed. If an individual only has one copy of the recessive allele, the trait will not be visible, although the person will be a carrier of that trait and can pass it on to their offspring. For example, as blue eyes are a recessive trait, both parents must contribute a blue-eye gene for the child to have blue eyes (Liu & Chen, 2018).

Another instance of this dominance-recessive relationship is observable in the genetic transmission of certain diseases. Cystic fibrosis, for instance, is a recessive genetic disorder. This means that an individual must inherit two copies of the abnormal CF gene (one from each parent) to have the disease (Stansfield, 2011).

Example: If both parents are carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene but do not have the disease (as they each have only one copy of the gene), there is a 25% chance that their child will inherit two copies of the abnormal gene and thus have cystic fibrosis. There’s a 50% chance that their child will be a carrier like them (inherit one abnormal gene and one normal gene), and a 25% chance that the child will neither be a carrier nor have the disease (inherit two normal genes).

Though the mechanics may seem simple, trait inheritance is far from straightforward. Many traits are influenced by multiple genes, a feature not captured in simple dominant-recessive models. Furthermore, research is revealing that we can’t entirely predict how genes behave, as they can interact with other genes and the environment in ways that scientists are still uncovering (Berent, 2020).

FeatureDominant TraitRecessive Trait
DefinitionTrait that appears when at least one dominant allele is presentTrait that appears only when two recessive alleles are present
RepresentationTypically denoted by a capital letter (e.g., ‘A’)Typically denoted by a lowercase letter (e.g., ‘a’)
Phenotype ExpressionAppears even if only one parent passes on the alleleAppears only if both parents pass on the allele
Example: Eye ColorBrown Eyes (B)Blue Eyes (b)
Example: Tongue RollingAbility to roll tongue (R)Inability to roll tongue (r)
Example: EarlobesFree earlobes (E)Attached earlobes (e)
Example: Hair TypeCurly hair (C)Straight hair (c)
Genetic CombinationHomozygous dominant (AA) or Heterozygous (Aa)Homozygous recessive (aa)
InheritanceAt least one parent must have the dominant alleleBoth parents either need to be carriers or express the recessive trait

Inherited Traits vs Acquired Traits

Inherited traits and acquired traits constitute two classifications of traits that characterize an organism’s phenotype.

Inherited traits result from the genetic material passed down from parents to offspring (Malmir, Farhud, & Khan Ahmadi, 2016).

Acquired traits, on the other hand, do not stem from the parent’s genetic contribution. Instead, they originate during an organism’s lifespan as a result of environmental influences or the organism’s experiences (Stansfield, 2011). These might involve physical changes, like a person’s muscles becoming stronger through regular exercise, or behavioral changes, such as learning to play a musical instrument.

Note that while acquired traits can influence an organism’s physiology or ability, they are fundamentally not passed down through generations via genes.

It’s a fine line that we tread. Inherited traits are determined by our genes, which we have at birth. On the opposite side, acquired traits are largely influenced by environmental factors or experiences. For instance, a child might inherit a predisposition for musical talent (an inherited trait) from their parents, but the ability to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on the piano is an acquired trait, resulting from dedicated practice and instruction.

Historically, there has been substantial debate over inherited and acquired traits, especially over whether acquired traits can become inherited. The concept that acquired traits could be inherited was buoyed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the early 19th century. However, this idea—known as Lamarckism—has largely been debunked by modern genetics, which asserted that DNA, not experience, determines inherited traits (Stansfield, 2011).

However, it’s not as simple a distinction as it might initially seem. In recent years, our understanding of inheritance has deepened, and the boundary between inherited and acquired traits is not as firm as once thought. The realm of epigenetics has blurred the line, suggesting that environmental influences can, in fact, alter gene expression and potentially be passed onto future generations (Cabej, 2012).

This idea doesn’t indicate that Lamarckism is correct but simply demonstrates that our understanding of inheritance and acquired traits continues to evolve.

FeatureAcquired TraitsInherited Traits
DefinitionTraits developed during an individual’s lifetime due to environmental factors, experiences, or learned behaviors.Traits passed from one generation to the next through genes.
OriginResult from an individual’s experiences and environment.Result from genetic information passed down by parents.
ExamplesLearning a language, acquiring a skill like playing an instrument, or getting a scar from an injury (see: examples of acquired traits).Eye color, hair texture, certain genetic diseases, height (though environment can play a role too).
Transmission to OffspringNot passed down to offspring through genes.Passed down to offspring through genes.
DurationCan change over an individual’s lifetime.Typically remain constant over an individual’s lifetime, though some may only manifest at certain ages.
Impact of EnvironmentDirectly influenced by the environment, experiences, and learning.Largely unaffected by individual experiences, but the expression can sometimes be influenced by the environment (e.g., nutrition affecting height).


The nuances of inherited traits and their classifications as dominant or recessive underpin our understanding of how we, and all living organisms, evolve and exhibit the physical and behavioral traits we do. This knowledge, steeped in the pioneering work of Gregor Mendel and elaborated through modern genetics and the intriguing field of epigenetics, continues to evolve. While our understanding of the mechanics of inheritance becomes deeper and more intricate, the essential facts remain the same: our traits are a direct product of our genes, shaped subtly by our experiences and the world around us. Our continued exploration into the science of inheritance promises not only greater self-understanding, but also holds the prospects for exciting advances in medicine, anthropology, and various other fields.


Berent, I. (2020). The blind storyteller: How we reason about human nature. Oxford University Press.

Cabej, N. (2012). Epigenetic principles of evolution. London: Elsevier.

Jantsch, E. (2019). Unifying principles of evolution. In The evolutionary vision (pp. 83-115). Routledge.

Liu, Y., & Chen, Q. (2018). 150 years of Darwin’s theory of intercellular flow of hereditary information. Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology19(12), 749-750.

Malmir, M., Farhud, D., & Khan Ahmadi, M. (2016). . Inheritance of Acquired Traits: Expression of Happiness and Violence Genes. Laboratory & Diagnosis7(30), 27-34.

Stansfield, W. D. (2011). Acquired traits revisited. The american biology Teacher73(2), 86-89.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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