The Nature/Nurture Debate

The Nature/Nurture Debate

The nature/nurture debate has been one of the most contentious disagreements in Psychology. Using thinkers from different psychological perspectives discuss the genetic and environment influences on human behaviour.

The nature versus nurture topic has been one of the most debated philosophical issues discussed within the psychological field throughout the century. The subject of this essay would be the discussionof both the nature and nurturer,it could be argued that nature does influence human behavior however, nurture is more predominant since environment affects the expression of one’s gene. The term nature-nurture was coined by Francis Galton in his 1874 publishing of the English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, where he argued that intelligence and personality traits were hereditary. Nature is said to be behavior and human traits influenced by genetic and biological predispositions, whereas, nurture refers or moreover describes behavior assimilated because of the environment and experiences, it is sometimes referred to as learned behavior. Human behavior can be defined as “the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental, and social activity during the phases of human life” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.vv. “Human Behaviour,” To discuss the influence of genetics and the environment on human behavior, this paper will refer to the various behaviorist and philosophical theories. Empirical studies will be used to further explain the nature/nurture debate and even though it may afford some light on the topic, there would still be a number of discrepancies in this topic that will require further investigation.

The behaviorist method is the best example of the nurture position in psychology, which accepts that all behavior is cultured environmentally. The finest example is the, social learning experiment with the use of the Bobo doll. Social Learning Theory (SLT) suggests that most of what we absorb or learn occurs via observation and indirect reinforcement such as the Bobo doll experiment which was demonstrated by Bandura. It has highlighted that children who observed the rewarding of an adult for acting aggressively towards a doll would imitate and exert the same behavior on their Bobo doll. This supported the idea that personality which is a human behavior is determined by nurture rather than nature. Neil Levy, a philosopher at the University of Melbourne, studied the roles played by nature and nurture in the origin of moral dispositions. He proclaimed that evolution gave human beings the precondition of morality, but it’s only as a result of the cultural elaboration. He further stated that human beings were animals that could never free themselves of their biological heritage and therefore have no needs since it enables flexibility, rational and caring behavior which they could want and allows them to seek to become more moral beings (Krebs and Climenhage 2005)

Another is Ivan Pavlov who supported the idea that nurture was more important in influencing human behavior than nature. His theory in classical conditional also known as Pavlovian conditioning basically stated that learning occurs via association. In psychological terms “Classical conditioning is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus”(David.L 2014). His theory was based on animals and not humans, however, another psychologist named John Watson also supported the idea that nurture was influential to human behavior and proposed that the same application of Classical Conditioning theory could be applied to human psychology. Watson believed that individual behavior was all due to learning experiences and in the year of 1920, the experiment little Albert was conducted by John B. Watson and graduate student Rosalie Rayner. As in every experiment, there are both advantages and disadvantages, however, the results of this experiment provided evidence that supported the claims that the environment was influential to human behavior. However, it could be argued that because the infant suffered from a disease named hydrocephalus which is the build-up of fluid in the brain. This build of fluid can lead to brain damage which can affect an infant’s personality, problem concentrating, etc. Due to these findings, it can be safe to say that it may have dented the nurture support.

There are many other theories and philosophers that supported nurture opposed the nature claim. A Greek physician named Claudius Galen conjectured that the characteristics of a person were the result of an individual’s relative concentrations of four bodily fluids, namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Fast forwarding to the 20th century, despite the fact that there was knowledge of genetics compared to when Gallen delivered his hypothesis, these two perspectives both shared the view that the environment and a person’s unique experiences, were the predominant forces in human development. About the late 1900s beginning of the 21st century, a dynamic shift occurred as knowledge of genetics started to change the viewpoint leading to an increased support of nature being the critical influence on a person’s behavior. Thanks to the Human Genome Project that was launched in 1990 this paved the way for the gradual switch in support. During this time-period, nature/nurture were the most relevant research topics being investigated and this was the study which permitted researchers to calculate which variables contributed to genetic versus environmental factors.

Evidence favoring nature has been reinforced with evolutionary explanations of human behavior demonstrating the nature approach in psychology. The fundamental assumption supporting this approach is that any specific behavior has evolved. John Bowlby’s evolutionary theory of attachment suggested that attachment behaviors were displayed because it ensured the survival of the infant and the preservation of the parents’ genes. In nonexpert terms, it means that when an infant is born it enters the world pre-programmed to form an attachment in order to enhance survival. An example of this is the ability of babies to express innate behaviors which allows them to form an attachment with the mother. When distance is placed between the mother and the child they exhibit human behaviors such as crying. Many psychologists from an evolutionary point of view assume that behavior is a product of natural selection. The attraction of two individuals to each other, because they can produce offspring successfully with favorable traits, is the consequence of sexual selection.

This genetic theory proclaims that gender identity is not learned, but hereditary via evidence obtained by the Reimer twin study. The two infants were born genetically male, with an XY chromosome, however, one of the boys was raised as a girl after a surgical accident. Even though all efforts were attempted by John William Money, a psychologist leading in gender psychology at the time, his experiment did not succeed. Hormonal level and activity did have a big part to play in is gender role, the level of testosterone in his body would have been a marginal decider in the child’s identity. The twin boy rejected his female identity which clearly stated that genetic factors do play an important role in gender identity development which correlates with human behavior. From a naturalists perspective, personality or behavior is considered natural, they believe that human behavior is a result of an evolutionary process.

Therefore, genes control your behavior and further accept that human beings may improve their personality but can never modify them altogether. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution convinced naturalists such as George Williams and many others to the idea of behavioral evolution. They hypothesized that human behavior was a result of natural selection meaning their genes dictated everything.

After extensive research I have concluded that both nurture and nature are responsible for shaping an individual’s behavior, however, in nurture has more prevalence over nature. A better understanding of both topics has been grasped and even though many empirical studies have been completed on this controversial topic, the question still remains on whether nature or nurture is responsible for human behavior. Researchers on all sides of the nature vs. nurture debate agree that the link between a gene and a behavior is not as extensive as environment and behavior. While in fact, a gene may increase the probability on the way you behave, it does not account for the way people do things. There is a matter of choice and free-will, while growing up depending on the environment you live and assimilate yourself in it may result in various behavioral outcomes. An example of this is two identical twins placed into separate environments, even though they have similar genome structure the environment would always play a part in their outcome. Social scientists increasingly understand the degree of interactions that occur between nature and nurture. As highlighted above the presence of genes does not solely ensure a particular characteristic will be evident as genesrequire appropriate environments for expected predispositions to be fully articulated. These “proper environments” consist not only of natural environs but also of individuals’ social and symbolic setting (Westen 2002).  It is clear that nature relies on nurture but both must coexist to shape an individual’s behavior.