Nature vs. Nurture Debate
The nature vs. 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, traits, and dispositions, while nurture is most commonly defined as environment, culture, and experience.
History of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate
The nature vs. nurture debate is an ongoing one. The modern debate often centers around the effect genes have on human disposition as opposed to the influences that early environment and development might have. As culture changes, 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 theory led to the widespread belief that human personality is primarily influenced by experience and training. It was during this time that researcher John Money attempted to demonstrate that gender was a product of early conditioning by raising a boy, whose circumcision was botched, as a girl. His experiment seemed successful in the beginning but ultimately was a failure.
In recent years, the nature side of the debate has gained more attention, with 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. Many have argued that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are deterministic pseudosciences.
Twin and Identical Twin Studies
Several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics, sexual orientation, and religiosity. The bond between identical twins was also suggested to be genetic by these studies, as 80% of identical twins reported that they felt closer to their twin than they did to their closest friends, despite having just met their twin.
One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart.
How Nature Affects Mental Health
While nature, or genetics, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic. Nature, or genetics and disposition, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression. Bipolar, for example, is four to six times more likely to develop when there is a family history of the condition. However, although the importance of genetic factors cannot be denied, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic. For example, identical twins share their genes, yet if one twin develops schizophrenia, research shows the other twin only has a 50% chance of also developing the condition. This indicates that nature, while it plays an important part, is not the only contributing factor.
Another area where researchers may place more emphasis on nature than on nurture is that of addictions. Research indicates that alcohol addiction, for example, can recur in families and that certain genes may influence how alcohol tastes and the way it affects the body.
How Nurture Affects Mental Health
Certain genetic factors may create a predisposition for a particular illness, but the probability that a person develops that illness depends in part on environment (nurture). When a genetic variant indicates the possibility of developing a mental illness, this information can be used to direct positive (nurturing) behavior in such a way that the condition may not develop or may develop with less severity.
James Fallon, a neuroscientist who discovered that he had the brain of a psychopath, has stated that he believes growing up in a nurturing and loving environment helped him become a successful adult and may have been effective at preventing him from fully developing traits of psychopathy. Similarly, the basis for addiction is not thought to be entirely genetic by most researchers. Environmental aspects, such as the habits of parents, friends, or a partner, might also be significant factors contributing to the development of an addiction. A genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction may be far more significant if one is routinely exposed to binge drinking or other forms of alcohol abuse and comes to view this as normal alcohol use.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool recently found that while a family history of mental health conditions was the second strongest predictor of mental illness, the strongest predictor was in fact life events and experiences, such as childhood bullying, abuse, or other trauma. This supports the idea that nurture plays significant role in the development of mental health issues.
Nature vs. Nurture in Therapy
In the mental health field, some therapeutic treatments and approaches may be nature-based or nurture-based, depending on which paradigm to which they adhere. For example, an extremely nature-based approach might seek to address mental health on a biological or genetic level, while a nurture-based approach could be more likely to address a person’s learned beliefs and behaviors. Most approaches borrow from both nature and nurture-based philosophies, and many seek to address the interaction between nature and nurture.
For example, using medication to treat a mental health issue may be a primarily nature-based approach, while behavioral therapy, which stems from behaviorist psychology, addresses a person’s upbringing and conditioning and takes a nurture-based point of view. Meanwhile, therapies based in cognitive psychology may be more likely to address the effects of both nature and nurture.
It is possible to find a therapist who takes a more nature or nurture-based approach to treatment. However, many therapists today consider multiple factors, including how the nature and nurture work together, during a session.
How Nature and Nurture Interact
Many scientists eschew the nature vs. nurture 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.
- 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.
- Alcoholism Nature vs. Nurture. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/alcohol-addiction/nature-vs-nurture.
- Facts about Bipolar Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2015, from http://adamhscc.org/en-US/facts-bipolar.asp.
- Iliades, C. (2013, February 7). Mental Illness May Be In Your Genes. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/mental-iillness-may-be-in-your-genes-1751.aspx.
- Lewis, T. (2014, August 11). Twins Separated at Birth Reveal Staggering Influence of Genetics. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/47288-twin-study-importance-of-genetics.html.
- Ohikuare, J. (2014, January 21). Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/life-as-a-nonviolent-psychopath/282271.
- Moore, D. S. (2003). The dependent gene: The fallacy of nature vs. nurture. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
- Putt, G. (2013, October 20). Nurture Over Nature: Mental Illness and Traumatic Life Events. Retrieved from http://www.decodedscience.com/nurture-nature-mental-illness-traumatic-life-events/3836.
Last Updated: 09-28-2018
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KristinaApril 7th, 2013 at 2:41 PM
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!
toni tinerJanuary 6th, 2017 at 12:00 PM
AlexisMay 2nd, 2013 at 3:53 PM
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 DungoJuly 14th, 2013 at 9:14 PM
“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 NielsenApril 7th, 2014 at 5:40 AM
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 PApril 21st, 2014 at 8:31 AM
This is awesome
Peter of NarniaJanuary 5th, 2015 at 10:51 AM
NoJune 15th, 2018 at 2:09 AM
Oil G.February 3rd, 2015 at 7:24 PM
I am oil, sirdoil, manoil, goodes
Jon HFebruary 9th, 2015 at 12:39 AM
A good scientific discussion. Really nature vs nurture has become a big discussion topic for parents and also for scientists. I personally feel a striking balance between the two is important to lead a successful life. Your child will be gifted with some good genetic traits but good habits and mindset to succeed in every situation, needs to be embedded within your child through your actions.
So, preach what you say and do, along with giving your child time, knowledge, and confidence that your child is special and can do anything. In the same way a billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was raised by his father Edward. We all want our child to be successful like him.
StephenAugust 18th, 2015 at 2:36 PM
MacDobacDecember 21st, 2015 at 4:48 AM
Sure genes effect a lot of behaviors but are they the most important contributing factor. In most behaviors they are not. If genetics was the biggest contributing factor we would not have different cultures. In acient greek and roman cultures homosexual sex was common place and was viewed as a purer form of sex than straight sex. (sexual orientation might be predetermined however the behavior is not even in such a strong drive as sexual drive. )
If we can be behaviorally conditioned to abstain from sex (and food and water , during prolonged fasts Eating is genetically programmed into all of us. ) We can be conditioned to form all sorts of strange behaviors (Hence the cultural differences)
Different cultures cannot be a genetic link because scientifically speaking “races” do not exist. And neither do ethnicities. If it was all predominantly determined by nature we wouldnt have different cultures. (or in fact poor people would be more violent, rich people wouldnt correlate with higher IQ which they do. etc Examples are endless )
PIJanuary 13th, 2016 at 1:57 PM
billyJanuary 20th, 2016 at 8:30 AM
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BeccaFebruary 15th, 2017 at 11:31 AM
How do I cite this article in MLA 8. I am only missing the author and the publisher.
Cristina TMarch 1st, 2017 at 5:53 AM
This is an article that anyone could benefit from,like many other people I agree environment plays a big part how that person will succeed in life! Example I grew up in Romania during the Communism many people had to adapt to that environment the outcome was obvious for people that disagreed with that way of life, so consequences had occurred! When you grow up in a great family with good influences children have a positive outcome, what about the choices you make that will also have an impact regardless of the environment/nature/nurture! My family emigrated to Us which completely changed environment so all of us had to adapt even though we had known a very controlled environment! So here we are our behaviors are influenced by environment and choices we make! Nature has a great influence the way we behave also the animals as well as the plants are adapting accordingly! So should we try to change the environment and nature? I believe nature wins! Nurture has also influenced us! How much nature and environment contribute to the kind of life in adulthood! DNA also plays a role in the way we behave with certain traits and characteristics according to the environmental conditions! Nature and Nurture work together we relate to both with choices we make and degree of adaptation we have! Interesting subject with great possible debates and future choices!
GaryMarch 12th, 2017 at 3:32 PM
It’s wonderful that you are getting thoughts from this article as well as from our dialogue made at this time.
Don TMarch 22nd, 2017 at 10:55 AM
Great informational and well-written article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how mental illness is affected by both nature and nurture and how each plays a role in determining the progression of a specific mental illness. I want to thank you for writing and sharing your article!
JUSTICEApril 4th, 2017 at 10:43 AM
Well expounded and clarified article.
Steven SApril 19th, 2017 at 6:08 AM
This article helped me a lot with my paper thank you but who is the author of this article
asdfasdfMay 22nd, 2017 at 9:52 AM
ParryJune 28th, 2017 at 6:20 AM
Nature over nurture.
Who taught the first human if not nature? We have all been fed the same information learned from trail and error since the dawn of human race. Therefore we all learned from nature; indirectly, and directly.
Thank you for reading
meganOctober 2nd, 2017 at 9:35 AM
I found this article to be very confusing could you explain more
Several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics, sexual orientation, and religiosity. The bond between identical twins was also suggested to be genetic by these studies, as 80% of identical twins reported that they felt closer to their twin than they did to their closest friends, despite having just met their twin. One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart
mainly the last sentence.
HunterOctober 19th, 2017 at 12:26 PM
Is this a peer reviewed article?
October 19th, 2017 at
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Toni GFebruary 11th, 2018 at 8:43 PM
I feel that this was a very interesting article because I really enjoy learning about child development, and there were many sources with scientific backing. I find it interesting that there is still so much debate surrounding these concepts of development.
JohnathanFebruary 20th, 2018 at 12:13 PM
Who is the author of this article?
February 20th, 2018 at
Thank you for taking the time to comment. As mentioned above, GoodTherapy.org staff members wrote this article. Please refer to previous comment chains that also include information on how to cite this page in APA style.
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NatashaApril 10th, 2018 at 3:19 AM
Hi sorry when was this page last updated
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Thank you for your comment, Natasha. This page was last updated on 08/12/2015.
NancyMay 9th, 2018 at 8:04 PM
Who is the author of this?
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Amanda LJune 9th, 2018 at 9:29 AM
Great article. In my opinion, I think nature and nurture work together rather than one playing a bigger role than the other.
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