Which Impacts Childhood Behavioral Problems More: Nurture or Nature?

Childhood disruptive behavioral disorders (DBD) cover a broad spectrum of issues, including oppositional/defiant behavior (ODD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder (CD). Researchers have spent much time examining the factors that contribute to these problems and have found that links exist between the family environment in which the child is raised and the genetic history of the parents. The relationship between parental adult antisocial behavior (AAB) and DBD has been explored to some extent, but has not been examined through a lens of AAB behavior versus AAB biology. In other words, the behaviors that are often exhibited by AAB parents, such as withdrawal, conflict, impulsivity, and harsh parenting, may contribute to the development of DBDs in ways that are different from the genetic factor present in children born to AAB parents. Examining the issue further, Marina A. Bornovalova of the University of South Florida recently led a study that examined several factors relating to nurture and nature in children with DBDs.

Bornovalova evaluated 1,255 families  consisting of two parents and 11-year-old twins. She assessed levels of parent-child conflict, maternal warmth, paternal involvement, harsh discipline, divorce, spousal conflict, and AAB. “Results indicated that parents with AAB were more likely to engage in various forms of maladaptive parenting, to divorce, and to have conflictual marriages,” Bornovalova said. In particular, she found that the mothers with AAB had a stronger negative influence on their children than the fathers with AAB and non-AAB mothers. She also discovered that divorce significantly increased the likelihood of DBD in the children, followed closely by married couples with two AAB partners. Bornovalova believes that the strong influence of the mother in relation to the father could be due to the fact the participants were recruited from the community and, in this sample, mothers spent more time with their children than the fathers did. Regardless, the results of this study demonstrate that although nature and genetics play a role in the onset of DBDs in children born to parents with AAB, nurture seems to be a larger contributing factor and should be examined more closely.


Bornovalova, M. A., Blazei, R., Malone, S. H., McGue, M., Iacono, W. G. (2012). Disentangling the relative contribution of parental antisociality and family discord to child disruptive disorders. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028607

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • heath


    August 31st, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    well nature is something much beyond our control but nurture definitely is.and the parents with issues in their relationship can effect their kids negatively.

    a strong and firm family structure is the best environment for kids to grow up in and develop in the best possible way.not only should parents think about material and other things but also this great asset that can make or break a child’s future often.

  • Ruth


    September 1st, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    I guess I have always thought that it is a combination of both nature and nurture that makes us who we are.

    We certainly can’t hide from the genes we didn’t ask for but have nonetheless been handed down to us. We don’t have to let those overwhelm us and leave us with no hope, but we do have to realize that they are there so there will naturally be a propensity to carry with us all of that which that DNA imparts.

    But we are also very much shaped and created by the environment and situation in which we were raised. Our parents are the ones who teach us how to love, how to give, and we learn by their example the things that are right and wrong. If they are the ones leading us in the wrong direction, then it is very hard to go against them and break free of that.

  • PW


    September 1st, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Well this is a very important question.While some disorder are genetic and can be hereditary some others can be caused in children due to the expression of the disorder present in parents.While only medication and prayer can help in the former case the latter can be helped on by counseling the parents and treating them.It could well save a generation from going down the same path.We need more info on this because really,a disorder prevented is a lot easier than a life rehabilitated once the disorder has taken over.

  • Leanna


    September 1st, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    I agree with Ruth.It is a combination of both nature and nurture and although there is ot much we can do about nature as either parents or the child,there is a lot we can do for our children as parents when it comes to the nurture part.

  • donna b

    donna b

    September 1st, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    Behavior problems? That’s all about the way your parents respond, so definitely nurture. You know those parents who think its cute for their kids to have a little sassy mouth? It’s a whole lot cuter from a toddler than it is from a teen. Be warned- let them do it when they are 2 and they will be doing that and then some when they are 12 and 16!

  • ESME


    September 2nd, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    We are not formed due to one thing or the other- it is all a combination of many factors that creates us and leads us to become who we are.
    It is awfully hard to deny genetics- I think sometimes that plays a much larger role than what we would like to believe. However there can be njo compensating for a good upbringing too, because for many of us our early interactions form the very basis of the beliefs that we have and remain very central to our lives.
    So any positives as well as any behavior issues that we have in life, well, those can all be chalked up to. . . BOTH!

  • Jean Nystrom

    Jean Nystrom

    September 2nd, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    I must agree with the “nuture” theory. I am divorces and have a daughter with ADHD. I to tried the Ritalin with little to no success. I found the drug made my child lethargic and once it wore off she would either crash or become even more hyper-active. Believe me, I tried it for a period of time to see if it would build up in her system and alleviate not only the behavior but the side effects. It did not. After doing much research I found two programs that are working for my daughter and my family. I use Play Attention and adhdnanny. Play Attention is a cool program that builds behavioral shaping and she loves to play it which makes it that much more easy on me. ADHD Nanny gives me and my family tools for everyday structure to assist her. Going back and forth between homes, this program keeps not only her on task but both families as well. Cannot say enough about them. One important lesson I have learned that we do have to nuture our children, we have to participate and interact in their lives as much as possible for anything to work at all.

  • Christine


    September 24th, 2012 at 12:43 AM

    Hi my three year old has severe ODD and Bipolar. I know it sounds weird for a three year old . I can’t tell you how many times I want to just break down and cry. He throws Things. Have thrown toys and hit me in the head . Gave his sister stitches. It’s like he has no remorse . Recently he got mad and stabbed me with his plastic dinner fork. No discipline works. I have taken away toys. Given him time outs. I even gone against my beliefs and slapped his hand. I just feel at my witts end. The psychiatry won’t give him anything due to his age. His dad is no longer on the picture due to him not wanting to get help for his ODD and OCD. Can you let me know what nanny structures that has been succesful.

  • rupert.j


    September 2nd, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    have there been any studies on whether nurture can turn around problems brought on by nature?or that it could cause problems even when there aren’t any brought on by nature?that would be more conclusive.

  • elena swilling

    elena swilling

    September 3rd, 2012 at 6:20 AM

    Nature is embedded in you , it is a part of you.
    Much easier to get over external factors that it is to move past things wheich are biological in nature.

  • HR


    September 3rd, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    Parents have a huge role to play no doubt.They can either put the kid on the right track or end up ruining things for the kid.That is why it is so important to give it much thought before you decide to have a kid.

    Not many people do this.They have no clue what they are getting into, they want a kid only because well they think it is only natural and end up being not so good parents. I have seen individuals do all sorts of crazy things as parents, things any sensible person would know is harming the kid!



    September 4th, 2012 at 11:13 AM

    I know that genetics play a huge role in how healthy we are or are not, our size, our propensity to develop certain diseases, etc. But that in no way shapes our behavior and how we react to other people and other situations. To say that we are the way we are because that’s how we were made is true to an extent, but only becaus ei feel like it should be about how we have been MADE by others and not how we were born. Children are a blank slate to write a story upon. I would hope that everyone would have a happy story and childhood to relate but that’s not always the truth. Some have to endure horrible childhoods that creates horrible adults with very little ability to resaon and make good choices. They started acting out as kids and will continue on that way as adults.

  • bernard


    September 4th, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    how is it that nurture can bring about these problems? is it to say that every child is vulnerable to these problems and the parental behavior dictates whether they actually develop into real disorders or not? if something is not present biologically then it cannot just appear because your parents are not being great,can it??!

  • Floyd


    September 4th, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    Years ago I met a young boy who had grown up in an abusive home, and quite literally he had no idea how to open up to anyone.

    I always felt that was so sad because he became so disillusioned about life from a very early age and never really got to enjoy being a child because no one ever gave him the opportunity to be.

  • Sacha Boyce

    Sacha Boyce

    September 7th, 2012 at 5:43 PM

    It’s complex :) but nurture, our familial responses + our societal mores and expectations make the behaviour regarded more as a “problem”.

  • Tina


    October 31st, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    As a child, I remember wanting my parents to be the first to hear of my accomplishments because we want to impress them and make them proud. But they were also the ones that could have the greatest negative effect on me and degrading words or actions could bring me down the hardest. This may not be the case for everyone as we all have different experiences. Looking back on my life I have tried to dig deep and see if there was a reason why I was not as social or loud and fun. I took offense to anyone who called my quiet because I knew it was true and I didn’t WANT to be quiet – I just never knew what to say. But my mind was loud and my thoughts never stopped. But I can’t blame my parents even if they have social issues. We all have some control over our environment.


Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.