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Nature vs Nurture. What causes human development?


Some people experience emotions and reality more sharply than others why is it? Could the answer be found in that age-old debate, nature VS nurture? Nature meaning its part of our genetical makeup and nurture meaning how you were brought up, your environment. Those family values and attitudes passed on through generations whether we want them or not. But what ever one it is, there are many things to take into account


Throughout history there has been many different view points on whether development, knowledge and behavior are a primary result from nature or nurture.

Plato (427-327 BC) said that ideas are innate, inborn. He believed the soul is the realm of all ideas and as the soul exists before birth, and is trapped in the body at birth, it is nature which constructs the person not nurture.

Wigger (1923) among many others also agreed with Plato. He said it was hereditary not environment which makes man. He followed this up by saying nearly all misery and happiness in the world is due not to environment. He said the differences among men are due to differences in cells, genes with which they are born.

In contrast Lenin (1917) said Give me a child until the age of 7 and I will give you back a communist for life.

The Jesuits also have a proverb very similar to this Give me the child for the first seven years, and Ill give you the man


Theorists throughout history have had different ideas about what makes us us. Nature is our genetical makeup, its what makes us uniquely us. Its our individual DNA which is passed on through generations from both sides of the family, with it comes physical characteristics, personality traits, and heredity diseases and mental illness. We each receive 23 chromosomes from each of our parents which creates a unique blend of genes no one else has.

Nurture scientists believe it is your home environment namely your parents, which have the greatest influence on your development. Nurture also includes social status, society and peers. So how and where you were brought up would impact on your development.

Gardner, one of the popular psychologists of our time especially in the field of child development, said, In the years to come we will come to discover that heredity and environment are each more important than we ever thought they were Could this mean that it is in fact both nature and nurture which plays an important part in our development? What are the implications of this statement? Maybe they are that we can no longer ignore one side of the debate in order to favor the other side but must take into consideration both sides when trying to understand development.

There have been many studies conducted over the past 25 years that used twins and adopted children to try and answer to the debate, to prove or disprove that nature / nurture is the reason for what we are.They have shown that there is a genetic component to nearly every human trait and behavior. Including personality, general intelligence, and behavioral disorders e.g. schizophrenia and autism.

A study by Jenson in 1969 concluded that genetic influences account for 70-80% of the difference in human development. However contrary to this conclusion Plomin (1990) and Hebb (1980) would both disagree with Jenson. They both think that it is in fact both nature and nurture that determines our development.

A recent study conducted in America concluded that it is neither side of the debate which is correct but it is in fact both. They conducted a study on how intelligence develops. They said genetics determines how intelligent a person is, but they say that it is the environment that determines how that intelligence develops.

They believe that intelligence can change based on changes to your environment. Because of this, researchers say that more intelligent people usually seek out more challenging environments, which in turn makes them smarter. Along side this researchers also say those who are brought up in a nurturing environment, with parents who pay them a lot of attention, are as a result smarter than those whos parents dont support them in the same way.


Could this be the answer to the debate? Genetics gives you the ability but it is nurture which develops the ability?


Maybe it is the answer, but lets look at a few scenarios.

Firstly if we took two twin babies and gave one the best possible environment and other we locked in a tower for its life, there would be very profound differences, these differences are caused by the environment.

Secondly if we took two babies and put them both in the same type of best possible environment they would develop differently, these differences are caused by genetics

Using these examples we can say that we can create a scientific environment to suit what ever side of the debate we are fighting for. We can manipulate science to suit our purpose but still carry out a true scientific experiment.


We must also try to dispel the myth that genetic influences in human development are difficult to change but in contrast environmental influences are easy to manipulate.

Lets dispel this myth. A person which a genetical defect such as impaired eye sight can be treated. However a person who due to their environment did not receive proper food/ nutrients and as a result has not developed fully in height etc cannot be fixed, even if you were to take them out of that environment as an adult the damage is permanent


Lenin, like many others in history, said that nature plays a small part in who we are but in reality it is the people around us who determines our future. Harris (1998) said that it wasnt environment that forms us nor is in nurture (parents) but it is in reality our peers which make us who we are. 

Harris tries to prove this by using studies on twins and immigrant children. Twins separated at birth and brought up in different environments may have some of the same genetical traits but ultimately it is the environment, namly the childs peers which determine which traits that are stronger and more empathized. The medium through which the cultures are passed down cannot be the family, because if you pluck the family out of the neighborhood and pluck it down someplace else, the childrens behavior will change to conform with that of their new peers in the neighborhood She also uses the examples of immigrants moving to a new country the child will conform to their peers and will usually adopt the new culture, language and idolisms much more comprehensively than the adults If the peer groups culture differs from that of the parents; the peer groups always wins. The child of immigrant parents or deaf parents invariably learns the language of her peers and favors it over the language her parents taught her. It becomes her native language.  

Harris states that whereas children will learn at home they are very likely to discard this knowledge once out side of the home. This is most likely because what they have been taught has nothing to do with the real world the one the children are facing everyday with out their parents there to hold their hands and tell them what to do.

Childrens personality can change quite dramatically according to the different environments they are in.

Peers, Harris continues, can have a major impact on a childs self image. Where a child stands in the social order of his or her peers can have a lasting effect on the childs personality.

I believe high or low status in the peer group has permanent effects on the personality. Children who are unpopular with their peers tend to have low self esteem, and I think the feelings of insecurity never go away entirely-they last a lifetime. You have been tried by a jury of your peers and you have been found wanting. You never get over that


Peer groups of course differ according to the members within the group, some may be strong whereas others weak, some maybe incredibly smart whereas others are not etc but what sort of person would we be if we only hang with people the same as us?

We need peers to create the person we are going to become, it is the other people in our lives that urge us to think beyond the typecast box our parents try to place upon us. Our parents think and have values of their own that they would like nothing more than to pass onto their children but how can you grow if there is no differing influence in your life, nothing to challenge, make you think about why you think this way act this way.   

By having a different caliber of people in a peer group, children around the ages of 7-8 years old begin to form their own self image by comparing themselves to their peers. These self images can rightly or wrongly typecast the person for the rest of their life.

Ask yourself this question, what makes you unhappy? In a survey 37% described a scenario that involved a peer and only 9% sighted parents as a reason.


Harris answered one more question in accordance to the debate which I am including for its interest value and because it may lead to a reason for societies conceptions.

Why did modern Western society develop the incorrect nurture assumption of the books title? (The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. New York: the Free Press.

Firstly is the misunderstanding of Socialization. Harris believes it is not the job of a child to learn how to behave the same as everyone else in his/her own society if only because, people in society do not act the same. In every society, acceptable behavior depends on whether youre a child or an adult, a male or a female. Children have to learn how to behave like the other people in their own social category. In most cases they do this willingly. Socialization is not something that grownups do to kids-it is something they do themselves

Secondly a misunderstanding of how behaviors are learnt. People have different experiences therefore they behave differently. In different situations the same behavior is accepted differently in one place with praise, in another with contempt or laughter. Its also a misconception that just because a childs behavior differs from home and out of it that it is the home behavior that matters more.     


Now lets look at an example which has been pulled into the nature nurture debate many times in order to explain it.

Its been said many that times those with parents who divorce are just as likely to do so themselves. Before we look at the nurture nature side of this occurrence lets look at some of the details surrounding it.

The statistics on divorce say that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, with America having the highest divorce rate in the world. The percent of second marriages that fail is higher with the percentage being seventy-seven percent. However the divorce rate does seem to be dropping, there are many reasons for this drop in statistics. One reason could be the fact that there are less people in the age group (20s-30s) when divorce is most prevalent. The children of the baby boom have all grown up and account for a large slice of our population. Societal pressures also may be helping divorce rates decrease as society says that a divorced life is less satisfying than married life. (Divorce Mediation Resources) Divorce can lead to a barrage of emotions usually none of which are good, such as depression, a sense of loss ; partner, hopes, dreams, lifestyle etc. Divorce hits the separated couple hard especially in the area of finances, they now have to use the same income to cover nearly twice the expenses, as they both run their separate house holds.

Statistics say that 50% of divorced couples are children of divorce themselves. The sad reality of life is that out of all the children in the world 50% have divorced parents and a further 28% are born illegitimate as in their parents were not married. This doesnt say much for your chances to have the socialital dream of the perfect happy family, but in saying this I do not believe you need to have a perfect family to be happy.

Lets look at the separate genders and their reactions to divorce.

Women are twice as likely to initate the divorce then men, and usually end up with having custody of their children (around 90%). A sad fact is that 60% of the people under the poverty line are divorced women and children.

Women seem to be able to adjust better and experience less stress after divorce then men, which means they are better able to adjust to the new situation. Some reasons for this is that women seem more likely to notice marital problems, and usually feel relief when it is over. Also women are more likely to get an increase of self-esteem once they are divorced and a newed sense of freedom.

Men on the other hand often have a hard time adjusting emotionally to the new life after divorce. Some reasons for this is that men feel a greater sense of loss, of intimacy, of social connection, reduced finances, and loss or separation from a child.

Another interesting fact is that men remarry more quickly then women.

Men who have a part in their childs life usually, in the form of joint custody are happier and more likely to support his child/children financially and emotionally.

Lastly men in general are much more negative about divorce then women and are usually more willing to put in the time and effort to save the marriage before it is to late.  


Financially for women in America single mothers support what can be up to four children on an average after-tax income of around $12,200 American dollars. A study which is based on all of the children which are eligible for child support show that 65% of mothers receive no child support at all, and out of the women that do receive child support 75% was court ordered.       



Surely this cant be a genetic thing. How can we have a gene in our bodies labeled divorce? I myself come from a family with broken parents and my father before him and his father before him. Now if it is a case of Nature VS Nurture where does this leave me? Safe, because divorce seems to be handed down on the male side of the family and my mothers side, remained happy until they died? Or am I doomed to live the life of a divorced wife, mother. If we say it is not a case of nature but a case of nurture how do we prove this? Are we taught from an early age that divorce is good and leaves people with no scars and unchanged? I dont believe this, having seen the devastation that divorce causes. I would of thought if anything, having divorced parents would cause you to do anything in your power to make sure the same did not happen to you. Plus if it is nurture how does this work? My fathers parents split when he was in his early teens yet I was in my 20s before my father copied his father and left with another woman. Did this make him happy? I truly believe not, just as I dont believe his father before him was happy.

I tend to side on neither side of the debate but remain in the middle I believe that both factors play a determining role in our futures.


Harris also has a theory on divorce. She dismisses the suggestion that parents getting divorced increases the chances of the child getting divorced. She says studies that look into the effects of heredity found no relationship between the divorce rate of parents and children, in another words there is no one gene which makes you predisposed to getting divorced. Instead she has another suggestion. Heredity is one of the reasons that parents with problems often have children with problems it is a simple obvious, undeniable fact; yet it is the most ignored fact in all of psychology Harris introduces the idea that it is common personality traits that bring in the link. She believes that it is partly heredity, e.g. personality traits, and not environment which causes divorce in families. Personality traits such as aggressiveness impulsiveness, a tendency to be easily bored

Maybe it is personality traits which leave you predisposed to divorce, maybe it is that much talked about secret; women choose men like their fathers and men generally choose women like their mothers. I say this with no proof at all, apart from causal observation and experience, but if u mix your personality traits with a partner similar to your parent then it is no surprise it fails.


Another family occurrence is abuse no one knows why it is that abuse breeds abuse. If abuse is genetical and not environment what sort of implications does this have especially in the court system. You cant charge someone for having schizophrenia when they commit a crime because of their mental illness, it as it is a mental, genetical disease. Could this also lead to people abusing the court system, laying claim to the genetical defense the same as a serial killer may lay claim to the insanity defense?


Many add companies especially those in New Zealand base their facts on the idea that violence is a learnt behavior. In most cases they do not take into account that it could be a genetical behavior. There is an indisputable proof that there is a likely hood that abuse is passed on through genetics and environment. Personality traits such as a quick temper. Can we say that there really is undeniable proof that if your parents are abuses you will be as well?

Could the answer also lie in the above? Those who grow up in abusive families  generally choose abusive men. This is a visous cycle, and one doomed to repeat, but still is it nature or nurture I have a tendency to lean towards nurture in this case, as the environment usually destroys self confidence and self esteem leaving the victim thinking this is what they deserve, and becoming depended on the man.

Maybe quite simply there is no answer.


The ability to be a good parent can be put down to genetics. Studies have proven this, as well as this is the ability to feel that maternal instinct that not every women feels.


Could the quest to find the answer to this debate be humans needing an attribute development to one side of the debate to make things simple and easy to understand? When in fact maybe it isnt this simple and doesnt show a comprehensive view.


Through research it has become increasingly more obvious that development of a childs mind and emotions cannot be slowed, stopped and certainly not controlled (unless we control their every movement, but even then we cant control their thinking)

If it is our childrens peers which determine what sort of person they are to become then there is no other option then to just trust our child to make the best decision for their selves.

All to many times we hear about promising young children getting into drugs, crime, gangs, all of which can most definitely be influenced by peers. Quite simplely if your peers disapprove you are not likely to take part in the action.

In most cases you are a product of your social group. A social group made up of individuals.

How can we hope to be able to influence our childs future if we as parents have no say in our childs development except genetically. The sad reality is we can try but our child is who decides who they are going to be.


I think that Miller (1996) said it best Genes are never expressed directly in behavior. There is a long chain of events involving genes, physiological processes, and the environment. The way that heredity is expressed depends on the specific environment in which this expression occurs

Could it be not nature or nurture which determines development and not necessary a co-existence of them but a type of reaction. Would it be correct to say that who we are is deposed in our genes but the way our traits are expressed depends on the environment we find ourselves in.

In a country that is not our homeland, where we are new to the culture and the language we may find ourselves feeling lonely which can lead to depression. We may not be predisposed to depression and may never have experienced it before, but our genes/minds react to the new environment. Another way instead of depression we could react is to suppress our emotions, to not face how we are genetically predisposed to feel. We could call depression or suppression a coping mechanism. A way we are predisposed to react to an environment, it is genetical however it depends on the environment in question to how we react to it. 


To answer my original question why do people experience life so differently, in terms of the nature, nurture I believe it is because we each have different genetics and different environments. I have shown that due to all of the different influences impacting on your life whether they be nature or nurture they differ so greatly from person to person. Certain experiences may be shared but as we are individuals we react differently to them. Experiencing them in different ways.

I have come to no conclusion other than to say that I think both theories have a plausible reason for existing. Both theories go along way in explaining what causes us to develop in the way we do. There does seem to be proof that shows that it is both nature and nurture that feed off each other to determine our development. Genetics, parents, peers, society, all play some role in creating our future. Maybe we will never know which one it is that creates who we are but in the quest to discover the answer we may find out more than the answer its self would tell us.