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Nature vs. Nurture Debate        
 

The nature versus nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about whether human culture, behavior, and personality are caused primarily by nature or nurture. Nature is often defined in this debate as genetic or hormone-based behaviors, while nurture is most commonly defined as environment and experience.

History of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

The nature versus nurture debate is an ongoing one. The modern debate often centers around the effect genes have as opposed to the influence early environment and development have on human personalities. As cultural mores have changed, so have popular understandings of this debate. In the 1960s, for example, psychologists—and pop culture in general—were heavily influenced by the theories of behaviorism. This led to a widespread belief that human personality is primarily influenced by experience and training. Researcher John Money attempted to demonstrate that gender is a product of early conditioning by experimenting with raising a boy, whose circumcision was botched, as a girl. The experiment seemed successful in the beginning, but ultimately was a failure.

 

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In recent years, the nature side of the debate has gained more attention, with popular headlines trumpeting newly discovered genes for virtually every behavior. Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are two branches of science that attempt to demonstrate the evolutionary roots of human behavior. Books authored by scientists in these fields are extremely popular. However, critics still emphasize the important role of early childhood environment, development, and cultural influences, and have argued that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are deterministic pseudosciences.

Nature x Nurture

Many scientists eschew the debate by emphasizing “nature x nurture.” In this schema, nature and nurture are inseparable. Some genes, for example, cannot be activated without certain environmental inputs. The development of vision is a prime example of this. People cannot develop normal sight without exposure to visual stimuli. Similarly, some environmental inputs may be undermined by some genes. For example, some lifelong smokers may never experience smoking-related illnesses, and this may be due at least in part to their genes. Environmental toxins may alter the expression of some genes, and genes for many behaviors presumed to have a genetic basis have not been discovered. Developmental systems theory, among other theories, presents an alternative to this debate that does not require scientists to advocate either for nature or nurture.

 

References:

  1. Agin, D. P. (2010). More than genes: What science can tell us about toxic chemicals, development, and the risk to our children. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Moore, D. S. (2003). The dependent gene: The fallacy of nature vs. nurture. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

 

Last updated: 07-28-2014

 
Comments
  • Kristina April 7th, 2013 at 2:41 PM #1

    You probably mean this:

    In recent years, the “NATURE” side of the debate has gained more attention, with popular headlines trumpeting newly-discovered genes for virtually every behavior.

    Genes relate to nature, and in this sentence, it means that genes affect behavior. Therefore, nature affects behavior.

    Correct me if I’m wrong though. Great article!

  • Alexis May 2nd, 2013 at 3:53 PM #2

    I think they both genes and environment are very important to our development. Our environment is able to trigger molecular changes and therefore gene expression varies, but our genes may limit that as well. I think it is something you can’t have a general rule for, first of all because of the number of environments, not only that but also the genetic differences we each hold.It’s a great article on a great topic.

  • Karen Dale Dungo July 14th, 2013 at 9:14 PM #3

    “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” – John B. Watson

  • Chandler Nielsen April 7th, 2014 at 5:40 AM #4

    the topic of nature versus nurture has always fascinated me, I am adopted so I find I am often trying to pick at myself and see what I inherited psychologically through genetics and what I picked up from learning behaviors I was raised around.

  • Alaya P April 21st, 2014 at 8:31 AM #5

    This is awesome

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