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
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 I’ll give you the man”
Theorists throughout history have had different ideas about
what makes us us. Nature is our genetical makeup, it’s 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
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 who’s parents don’t 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
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 wasn’t
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 child’s 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 children’s
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 group’s culture differs from that of the parents; the peer group’s
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.
Children’s personality can change quite
dramatically according to the different environments they are in.
Peers, Harris continues, can have a major impact on a child’s
self image. Where a child stands in the social order of his or her peers can
have a lasting effect on the child’s 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 book’s 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 you’re
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. It’s also a
misconception that just because a child’s 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.
It’s 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 (20’s-30’s)
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 doesn’t 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
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
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
Men who have a part in their child’s 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 father’s
parents split when he was in his early teens yet I was in my 20’s
before my father copied his father and left with another woman. Did this make
him happy? I truly believe not, just as I don’t believe his father before him was
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
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 can’t
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 isn’t this
simple and doesn’t
show a comprehensive view.
Through research it has become increasingly more obvious
that development of a child’s mind and emotions cannot be slowed,
stopped and certainly not controlled (unless we control their every movement,
but even then we can’t control their thinking)
If it is our children’s 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 child’s
future if we as parents have no say in our child’s 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
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.