There has long been a debate about whether nature or nurture matters more in determining the traits an individual will have. In other words, do genetics or environment play a more formative role in the development of one’s personality? Nature says that our traits are influenced by genetic inheritance and similar biological factors while nurture is meant as the influence of environmental factors after conception.
We know that physical characteristics like eye color, hair color, and height can be attributed to specific genes within our DNA. But what about emotional or behavioral traits? This sample biological essay from the essay writing services at Ultius examines the question that while some behavioral traits can be traced to certain genes, does our environment play a role in activating those genes?
Our genetic makeup
Science tells us that certain traits are most definitely attributed to genetic causes. Our eye color, skin pigmentation, and certain diseases like Tay-Sachs or Huntingdon’s chorea are all direct results of the genes we inherit from our parents. Other traits to which we can be genetically predisposed include weight, height, life expectancy, hair loss, and vulnerability to certain illnesses (McLeod 2007). Because these characteristics can be definitively connected to our biology, many speculate on whether or not genetic factors can contribute to behavioral tendencies, mental abilities, and personality traits.
Nativists, those who believe that every characteristic we have is determined only by nature, assume that the characteristics of the human species as a whole are simply a product of evolution and that the things that make us unique are a result of our own specific genetic code. They believe that the characteristics that are not observable at birth, such as personality traits, emerge later as the product of maturation.
We each have a biological clock inside us that turns certain behaviors on and off in a way that is preprogrammed from birth. An example of this would be the way our bodies change during puberty. Nativists also believe that:
“maturation governs the emergence of attachment in infancy, language acquisition, and even cognitive development as a whole” (McLeod 2007).
Bowlby’s theory of attachment views the bond between the mother and child as being an innate process that aids in our survival as a species. Likewise, Chomsky believed that language is learned through the use of an innate language acquisition device that all humans are born with (McLeod 2007). In addition, Freud speculated that traits like aggression are engrained in our DNA.
Fraternal twins as evidence of nature over nurture
Similarly, it is often debated whether or not criminal activity can be linked to a genetic disposition. One of the biggest pieces of supporting evidence for the nature over nurture is the fact that fraternal twins exhibit similar characteristics even when they are raised apart. Often times, these twins will share behavioral traits as if they were raised together in the same place. Mental health is undoubtedly affected by our biological dispositions.
For example, bipolar is approximately five times as likely to develop when there is a family history of the condition (“Nature vs. Nurture Debate”). There are similar statistics available for a wide number of mental health conditions. Researchers also tend to place more emphasis on nature when it comes to addiction. Alcoholism, for example, can recur in families and it has been found that certain genes may influence the development of alcoholism and the way alcohol effects the body.
Alternatively, to nativists, empiricists believe that the human mind is a blank slate at birth and any characteristics we develop are a result of our experiences and environment. With point of view speculates that psychological characteristics and our behavioral tendencies are things we learned during our development. While the concept of maturation applies to the biological development we experience, any psychological growth is a result of the way we are brought up.
Attachment of infants as evidence of nurturing
An example of this would be the way infants form attachment. The formation of attachment is a direct result of the love and attention a child receives. If they are not given love and attention, the attachment will not develop. Similarly, we learn language by mirroring the speech we hear from others.
Our cognitive development is dependent on the environment and civilization in which we are reared (“Nature vs. Nurture”). Bandura’s social learning theory states that aggression is a characteristic that we learn through observation and imitation. In addition, Skinner believed that language is something individuals learn from others via behavioral shaping techniques.
Watson’s ideas on environmental learning
John Watson, one of the most well-known psychologists to propose environmental learning as the dominating factor in the nature versus nurture debate, feels that our behavioral traits are purely a result of our surroundings and experiences. He felt that he could condition a new behavior in a child or alter an already existing behavior that is considered to be unfavorable (Sincero 2016).
Watson believed that he could randomly choose any baby out of a group of twelve infants and raise the child to become any type of specialist he chose. He stated that he could train any child to be anything, regardless of the individual’s talents, potentialities, and social groups.
Benefits of nurturing on mental health
Just like nature, nurture affects our mental health, as well. While someone may have a genetic disposition for one condition or another, there still needs to be an environmental trigger for that condition to develop. If there is a genetic indication that a mental condition may develop, the individual can be ‘nurtured’ in a way that can prevent the condition from developing or lessen its severity.
A neuroscientist named James Fallon discovered that he possessed the brain of a psychopath and believed that being raised in a loving and nurturing environment helped ensure that he never fully developed enough sociopathic traits for them to affect his success (“Nature vs. Nurture Debate”).
The foundations of addiction
In a similar way, the basis for addiction is not entirely determined by genetics. Certain environmental aspects, such as the habits of our friends, partners, and parents, can contribute significantly to the development of addiction. A genetic predisposition to alcoholism becomes entirely more significant when the individual in question is frequently exposed to alcohol abuse and comes to view the harmful behavior as normal.
A study conducted at the University of Liverpool found that a family history of mental health conditions was only the second strongest indicator that a mental condition would develop (“Nature vs. Nurture Debate”). The strongest predictor was life events and experiences that contributed to the development of the mental condition, such as abuse, bullying, or childhood trauma.
Meeting in the middle
Today, most people agree that our characteristics are a result of a combination of both nature and nurture. There is enough support for both sides to completely count either side out. For example, if one twin develops schizophrenia gene, the other twin has only a fifty percent chance of also developing the same condition (“Nature vs. Nurture Debate”). Clearly, both nature and nurture can affect the development of certain disorders.
The question then shifted from ‘which one’ to ‘how much?’ We know that both play a role, but which force is more important? Francis Galton was the first to pose this question during the late nineteenth century. A relative of Charles Darwin, he felt that intellectual ability was mostly attributed to genetics and that the tendency for genius to be a familial trait was the result of natural superiority (McLeod 2007).
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Arthur Jenson on intelligence testing
Many others have agreed throughout history, which has spurred an influx of intelligence testing; in particular, on separated twins and adopted children. Arthur Jenson is an American psychologist who is a modern proponent of nature over nurture. Jenson cites average IQ scores in which black Americans scored significantly lower than white participants and suggested that as much as eighty percent of intelligence is inherited (McLeod 2007).
Not surprisingly, controversy developed surrounding Jenson’s claims due to the logical weakness of his argument. It was widely agreed that his study was tainted by social and political implications that are often drawn from various studies that claim to represent natural inequalities between race and other social groups. Differences in IQ scores between various ethnic groups can be explained by biases in testing methods and social inequalities in access to resources and opportunities (McLeod 2007). Similarly, it is hotly debated whether or not alleged intelligence difference in male versus female results is a consequence of biology or culture.
The importance of both nature and nurture
Now, however, the scientific world has come to understand that trying to place a numerical value on nature and nurture to judge which is more important is not really the right approach (Davies 2001). Intelligence, for example, is a complex human characteristic that can exhibit itself in a wide variety of ways from genius to basic common sense.
By attempting to place quantitative values on the separate factors, we fail to focus on the fact that biology and environment interact in a host of important and intricate ways (Ridley 2003). Today, most people agree that neither biology nor environment act independently of one another. Both are necessary for any characteristic to manifest. Because they are dependent on each other and interact in such a complex manner, it is illogical to attempt to think of them separately.
How nature and nurture combine in the individual
Rather than defending nativists or empiricists, most psychologists are now more interested in researching the ways in which nature and nurture interact with each other to develop characteristics and traits. In psychotherapy, this means that not only does there need to be a genetic disposition required for mental disorders to develop, but there also needs to be an environmental trigger, as well (Feller 2015).
The recognition of this important relationship is especially important given the genetic advancements made during the twenty-first century. The Human Genome Project and advent of bioengineering sparked wide interest in tracing types of behavior to particular strands of DNA found on certain chromosomes (McLeod 2007). Scientists expect to soon find specific genes that are linked to criminality, alcoholism, and other characteristics.
Psychologists have been debating the influence of nature versus nurture over human characteristics for a very long time. After the scientific world came to recognize that biology and environment both play a role, the emphasis shifted to determining which was more important. Now though, as we have come to truly understand the complexity of the relationship between our genetic dispositions and environmental triggers, we no longer focus on one versus the other, but rather the way they interact with and affect each other.
While it is certainly helpful in the development of certain conditions for there to be a genetic disposition, there almost always needs to be an environmental trigger that causes the characteristic to manifest in an individual. This is only a small part of this complex discussion and an example of what you can expect when you buy a critical essay from Ultius.
Davies, Kevin. “Nature vs. Nurture Revisited.” PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation, 17 Apr. 2001. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Feller, Stephen. “Nature vs. Nurture: It’s a tie, study finds.” UPI. United Press International, Inc., 19 May 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
McLeod, S.A. “Nature vs. Nurture in Psychology.” Simply Psychology. Simple Psychology, 2007. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
“Nature vs. Nurture.” Diffen. Diffen, 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
“Nature vs. Nurture Debate”. GoodTherapy.org. GoodTherapy.org, 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Ridley, Matt. “Nature via nurture: Genes, experience, and what makes us human.” APA PsycNET. HarperCollins Publishers, 2003. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
Sincero, Sarah Mae. “Nature and Nurture Debate” Explorable. Explorable.com, 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.