Nature vs. Nurture

There is an issue that has been discussed by philosophers in the past and still so by scientists today. This issue is whether heredity or environment plays a greater role in the determining or shaping of an individual’s behavior. It is known as the nature versus nurture debate. Many generations before us have deliberated on the reasons behind the development of human behavior. There have been many theories to explain why humans behave the way they do. The surviving theories for behavior come from physiological and sociological explanations. However, the two explanations have not always been compatible with each other. The famous nature vs. nurture debate over human behavior resulted from conflicting views between proponents of the physiological (nature) and sociological (nurture) explanations. Throughout history, research has swayed popularity back and forth between the theories.

The debate has been particularly important in certain fields of sociology, including education (with a focus on the heritability of intelligence), crime (with, for instance, dispute over the idea of an inherited criminal personality), and gender divisions (with heated debate over the importance of biology to observed differences in male—female behavior).

Way before our time, early philosophers endeavored to understand the human behavior. As early as 350 BC, such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle tried to understand behavior. Plato believed behavior and knowledge was due to innate factors. Plato theorized that all knowledge is present at birth. Plato also believed that the environment played a part in human processes, but he thought it had an unique role. He believed the environment did not teach people anything new, but its purpose was to remind people of information they already knew. Although Plato’s views are not supported today, he laid the groundwork for other researchers to follow.

However,  Aristotle theorized a different idea about human behavior. He presented the idea that humans are born into the world with a “blank slate” and people’s behavior and thoughts are due to experience. Unlike Plato, Aristotle hypothesized that humans were not born with knowledge, but they acquire it through experience. Aristotle’s idea of the tabula rasa is not believed today. Nevertheless, his belief that the environment was a vital factor in behavior influenced many empiricists throughout history.

During the late 1700s, the nature vs. nurture debate began to heat up between philosophers. Internalists (nature) and empiricists (nurture) wrote literature back and forth trying to prove their beliefs and disprove the other theories. The contrasting views of the two groups had begun the nature vs. nurture debate, which would linger in the fields of philosophy and psychology for decades.

The most resent studies that have been done on twins and adoption use both identical and fraternal twins. Identical twins are 100% genetically similar and offer exact genetic replicas to study, where fraternal twins are the same as any other siblings at 50% similar. Twins are natural experimental models, because each set of comes with its own control. Identical twins share 100% of their genetic material, i.e. they have the same nature, so any differences between the two in personality can be attributed to nurture. This is especially evident when identical twins are separated early on in life and raised in different environments. The situation gets more complicated when identical twins are raised in the same environment, yet have different personalities.
Some of the final results of these studies show astonishing similarities between identical twins, yet others show little evidence of these similarities. With fraternal twins there is some similarities but none that are complete evidence of the nature theory. Fast- growing understanding of the human genome helps show that both sides are partly right. Nature endows us with inborn abilities and triats; nurture takes these genetic tendencies and molds them as we learn and mature. These studies fuel the pot for both the nature and the nurture ideas.

The nature vs. nurture debate over the last forty years has reached an agreement that they both influence the development of human behavior. In the 1960s, researchers from both theories began to study the interaction of the genes and the environment. The statements of Dr. Fausto-Sterling and Dr. Evan Balaban can sum up the interaction between nature and nurture. Fausto-Sterling states, “People want simple explanations for hard-core problems. If there was an anti-testosterone drug that we could inject to make young boys nice…it would be easier and cheaper than transforming schools…or whatever is at the heart of the problem”. However, Balaban replies, “…don’t hold your breath if you think looking for genes to help you understand violence. I would put my money on some clever environmental manipulations, because in the end you’re going there anyway”.

Posted by on December 8, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

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