The nature vs. nurture debate

The nature vs. nurture debate is one of the biggest debates within psychology. It is an argument about what causes our behaviour. Is our behaviour inherited from are family and controlled by the machines of our bodies (nature) or is it learned and shaped by our environment and the people around us (nurture)? There is evidence for both sides but there are also issues with accepting either side as right.

The nature side of this argument can be found in Biological psychology. In brief the argument is that all are behaviour is a result of our genes or the influence that hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain or the result of injuries that course brain damage such as the case of Phineas Gage (you can read about the Phineas Gage cage study here ) There is a lot of evidence to support the idea that behavior is caused mainly by nature. Strides of addiction have shown that addiction can run in families. At times this can even happen when the child has been adopted at an early age by a family who has no history of addition which would suggest there is a genetic background to addition.

The nurture side of this debate can be found in behaviourist psychology and is the idea that all are behaviour is the result of are environment and the people around us. In other words people are born as a blank slate and it’s their experiences though life that shape who they are and what they do. A big part of this is based on social learning theory, which is where a person’s behaviour is shaped by those around them. This could explain why addictions sometimes seem to run in families, because the child would see their parents smoking and then think it is the right way to act. This is just one example of many where the nature and nurture offer different explanations for human behaviour.

Both sides of this debate have their strengths and weakness. The idea that behaviour is influenced by biological factors such as genes and hormones is supported by many studies. However these studies have never given undeniable support to the idea that biological factors are the most dominant factor let alone the only factor that influence the behaviour of an individual. Another issue with accepting the idea that behaviour is caused by someone’s genes and hormones is that if someone’s behaviour is caused by their genes then how much control does someone have over their own lives? How much can someone be held to account for their own actions? For example, if someone murdered someone, could they be shown lunacy for their actions because they were only acting in the way that their genes and hormones? This has even happened in the past, there have been several cases where someone’s murder charge was dropped to manslaughter because it was found that they had excuses amounts of hormones in their bodies which caused increased aggression. The fact that the nature approach seems to reduce the effect of free will, makes it deterministic (The determinism, free will debate is another big debate within psychology.)

Although the nurture side of this debate is much less deterministic it too has its weakness too. One of these weaknesses is the fact that there is so much evidence to support so many parts of the nature side of the argument, that it just can’t be ignore in favour of the nurture model. Another problem with the nurture side of this argument is that the methods used to investigate it are often much less scientific than the methods used to investigate the fields of psychology that support the nature side such as the biological approach.

It is clear that neither the nature or nurture side can be 100% right. To assume that all our behaviour is entirely down to either our biological background or our upbringing is a big mistake. It is clear that the two work together to control behaviour. It seems that our biological makeup can give us a biological predisposition to act in a cretin way, for example can make someone more likely to take drugs if their parents had been though drug addiction themselves, however the person has to find themselves in a social situation where they would act that way, and for this reason it seems that the nurture side of this debate is the stronger, but the nature side of this debate cannot be ignore and does play a role in determining human behaviour.

  1. This is a very well argued blog. I have always argued that although there is no doubt that biology does play a huge part in our behaviours, for it is clear to see that Schizophrenia and drug abuse, for example, are in fact inherited, nurture or the environment are more influential and give a greater explanation for why behaviours are carried out. Judith Rich Harris in her book ‘The nurture assumption’ gives examples of some of the findings carried out by psychologists to see whether parental influence in development can affect later personality. She explains they found that if a mother is kind, loving, honest, and enforces sensible but not rigid limits their child will also adopt those personality traits and become confident in later life. In a study carried out by Frome and Eccles it was found that parents perceptions of their children affected their grades in school and their overall confidence. This suggests that if parents do not believe in their children the children will adopt the same attitude and also not think they will be unsuccessful.

    The types of studies and the vast amount of research carried out on this topic all convinces me that nurture plays the leading role in behaviour and I think we all need to be very careful of how we use that power. Parents must be aware that they are influencing and moulding their children and the general public need to be aware of how others can see behaviour, pick it up and then use it in later life. This leads to the debate as to whether the media should be reporting the news and it being played at all hours of the day for children to watch and be influenced by, but maybe that’s a topic for another day.

  2. Daniel,
    You chose a very interesting yet controversial blog topic which was extremely well informative and well written. I agree with you that our behaviour is both influenced by our genetics and our environmental backgrounds. Perhaps a valid point to bring into this could have been feral children. Examples of these types of cases are John Ssebunya and Ivan Mishukov, although supposedly both of these children spent years away from human communication, after being found they did start to regain human speech and acquire human traits but both children went missing after the critical period. Cases of feral children could be seen in either light, as supporting both nature and nurture or primarily favouring nurture because feral children have never been able to teach themselves human language or traits which reinforces the need for nurture to cultivate social skills in a child.
    Becky x

  3. great publish, very informative. I ponder why the opposite specialists
    of this sector do not understand this. You should proceed your writing.
    I am confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  4. I am genuinely pleased to read this blog posts which carries plenty of valuable information, thanks
    for providing these kinds of statistics.

    • Sandy
    • March 27th, 2014

    Having been adopted
    And meeting my biological family.
    I am of a sense the genetics has slot to answer for

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