You got your dark brown hair from your father and you got your looks from your mother, but where did you get your excitement for sports and your love for all animals? A person’s physical characteristics lean more towards genes and heredity, but our genes are not mentioned as much when behavior is the topic. This is how the nature versus nurture debate first began. Scientists who believe in the nature theory believe that people behave the way they do due to heredity and genes. On the other hand, nurture scientists believes behavior is taught and influenced by the environment and the surrounding people. Many say that behavior results from nature, while others believe in the opposite, the environment. Human development has been viewed as one of the most highly controversial topics in the world of psychology today, and the debate of nature versus nurture is at the top of the discussion list.Order now
There are two types of believers regarding human development: nativists and empiricists. Nativists are those who believe that specific skills or abilities are “native” or engrained into the brain in the womb or at birth. Each person has their own unique genetic code that is specific to that individual as a whole. Therefore, some people are born with a more superior genetic makeup than others (McLeod, 2007). Bowlby’s theory of attachment is an example of a strong nature position in psychology. His theory illustrates the bond between a mother and her child as being an essential process that guarantees survival for that child (McLeod, 2007). If you had a strong and healthy attachment to your mother, it was seen as though you would have a reliable personality and behave in a manner that is appropriate for society. Along with attachment, aggression is an example of how nature is the strongest factor for the development of one’s personality and behaviors. Fuchs (2011) reviews Sigmund Freud’s theory of aggression and found that frustration or aggression is the thwarting of an action that would have shaped reward or gratification (p. 27). This is because we, as human beings, are born with these feelings, such as aggression, and we behave in specific ways to get a reward or gratification. We then use these emotions, such as aggression and frustration to get what we need in life.
One idea called eugenics, the idea that humanity could be improved by selective breeding, is an example of the nature position in this debate. Eugenics came about because people strived to make the “perfect” human, and it was thought that if you could select who human’s breed with, then you could, in turn create the perfect human. This idea was brought up on the thought that genes were, in fact, the only factor that contributed to the creation of a person and their behaviors (Funder, 2011, p. 303). Galton (1889) explored the domain of inheritance and the evolution of traits. He believed that intelligence was essentially inherited, therefore he favored the idea of nature over nurture. Galton found that each parent contributed one-quarter of their genes to their children, proving that some factors are genetically driven (p. 382).
“Nature vs. Nurture” (2015) stated, “several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics. One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart.” This quote displays that with twin studies, some personality characteristics are, in fact, due to genes.
An important study by Turkheimer, Haley, Waldron, D’Onofrio, & Gottesman (2003) found more of the variance in IQ in children who were raised in impoverished families was accounted for by their environment, whereas, more of the variance in IQ in prosperous families was due actually to their genes (p.625). This study expresses that specifically IQ scores are one part of an individual’s personality that can be genetic. Many scientists believe that genes are what make you the person that you are. On the other hand, many other scientists believe the exact opposite. They believe that the experiences in the environment you have as you grow are what make you the person you are.
At the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists, which are also known as empiricists. These scientists assume that at birth the human mind is a “tabula rasa,” which means a blank slate. Therefore, as humans grow and develop, this blank slate is gradually filled as a result of the experiences we encounter (McLeod, 2007). Environmentalists believe that how one is brought up governs aspects of child development and behavior. Bandura’s idea of social learning theory stated that aggression is a behavior that is learned from the environment simply through observation and imitation (Pierce and Bandura, 1977, p.321).
Bandura’s famous Bobo doll experiment exemplifies this very well. They found that if a child saw someone acting violent or aggressive toward the doll, then they too acted aggressive towards the doll, proving that behavior is learned through observation of the environment. Bandura, Ross, and Ross (1961) again found similar results. Behavior is learned through imitation of aggression. Children who see aggression tend to imitate what they have observed, therefore causing aggressive behaviors from the child themselves (p. 579).
Grusec (1992) studied Bandura’s social learning theory and found, “Cognition involves knowledge and the skills for acting on that knowledge. It is best regarded as guided by specialized cognitive capacities that change over time as function of maturation and experience” (p. 783). This quote is another example as to why many believe that nurture is the only thing that governs behavior. Maturation and experience refers to growing and adapting to the world by observing and experiencing, in turn reflecting on one’s own behaviors. “Nature vs. Nurture: What Really Shapes Who We Are?” (2016) states, “If environment didn ‘t play a part in determining an individual ‘s traits and behaviors, then identical twins should, theoretically, be exactly the same in all respects, even if reared apart. However, a number of studies show that they are never exactly alike, even though they are remarkably similar in most respects.” No two people can ever be exactly the same, and this quote demonstrations this as well. If environment does not play a role, then technically, identical twins would be the exact same person.
Cherkas, Hochberg, Macgregor, Snieder, & Spector (2000) published a twin study that suggests that a sense of humor is a learned trait, influenced by family and cultural environment, and not genetically determined (p. 19). If traits such as humor, are environmentally influenced, then does that not mean that many of our other traits that make up who we are, may be environmentally influenced as well? Although many scientists believe that nurture is what reflects who you are, today, many believe that it is a combination of both your genetic makeup and the environment in which you grow up in that influence your personality and behaviors.
Nature and Nurture
As we know, many times it is a mixture of both. In today’s society, developmental psychology, specifically our personality and behaviors, are studied as a combination of both nature and nurture. Many experts today agree that one’s personality is devised from a combination between our genes and the environment. “Nature vs. Nurture” (2015) stated, “Many scientists eschew the debate by emphasizing “nature x nurture.” In this schema, nature and nurture are inseparable. Some genes, for example, cannot be activated without certain environmental inputs.” Today, many strongly believe that is a mixture of both, and this quote is reflective of just that.
McLeod (2007) revealed information about a recent study done at King’s College in London, and it presented that some environments have the ability to form personality more than others. This specific study discovers that across the UK, about 60% of the disparity of the children’s behavior at school were determined by their genes. Nevertheless, in London, the impact of the environment was higher than in other parts of the UK. Environment and genes work together in the makeup of one’s behavior and personality. This study demonstrated that because the environment is different in diverse parts of the world, therefore the environment could have an altered effect on one’s personality, but it still does impact who you are, even if the amount in minimal.
Barlow, Ellard, Sauer-Zavala, Bullis, & Carl (2014) found that a person may have a general biological susceptibility to stress that is influenced due to genetics. Simultaneously, the same person may have general psychological vulnerability caused by factors from the environment, such as poor parenting or the lack of sincere, supportive environment during early childhood. These two influences can combine to produce a general incapability to handle stress well (p. 487). Illustrating that it may be a combination of both nature and nurture that develops one’s personality and identity, this quote is extremely supportive. In regards to mental illness “Nature vs. Nurture” (2015), researchers at the University of Liverpool recently found, “While a family history of mental health conditions was the second strongest predictor of mental illness, with the strongest predictor being life events and experiences, such as childhood bullying, abuse, or other trauma, supporting the idea of nurture’s significant role in the development of mental health issues.” This is a great example of how both the genes and the environment play a significant role in who a person becomes. Both genetics and the environment played a role in the development of mental illness in this study, proving that one, nor the other, is the only factor that makes up a person’s behavior and personality.
We have been shown that an individual’s experience can affect their biological makeup just as much as one’s biology can affect their experiences in the environment. Freund et al. (2013) found that genetically identical mice that explored their environments grew more brain cells than mice that did not. This is a flawless example of how experience in the environment can have a direct effect on biology. All of the mice had the genetic ability for their brain to grow, but only the ones who took the time to look around developed this potential (p.758). This quote illustrates that if genetically, you have the ability to make yourself who you want to be, but if you do not seize the opportunities that the environment gives you, then you may not be your best. Because both the environment and your genes have an effect on a person, then you have the potential to shape who you want to become.
You may in fact get your hair from your dad and your looks from your mom, but it is both your genes and the environment you grow up in which potentially play a role in the person that you become. Scientists know that both nature and nurture affect who a person becomes in the future. However, how much each factor, the environment and genetics, play a role is still uncertain. Today, some scientists still argue one over the other, but the general consensus is that both your genes and your environment affect who you are and how you behave. This debate is a matter of opinion, which is exactly why there is still no one correct answer but more of a unique blend of the two based on the person. Even though we have many great conclusions from many different scientists, there is still no official decision to the question: Which is it, nature or nurture?