Nature vs. Nurture

It has long since been a question in social Psychology whether development, both socially and physically, comes from ‘nature’, the genes a person has, or ‘nurture’, their social upbringing. Nowadays, it is more often decided that a mixture of both contributes to what ‘makes’ a person.

Nevertheless, it is still a debate. Sure, there are some qualities that might be dependent on how one is brought up: the way they act, the way they dress or speak; and there are undeniable genetic factors, such as natural eye and hair colour; nevertheless, the amount of crossover, especially regarding behavioural development and social interaction, is immense. Not particularly factoring in climate-culture (as opposed to class-culture), the ratio and interpretation of nature vs. nurture is relentlessly varied around the world, something which leads to discrepancy in a universal standard. Thus, as we find out more about the human body, mind, and society, the surrounding ideas of the debate change.  

 

The tabla rasa theory was created by philosopher John Locke: that we are a ‘blank slate’ until we begin to learn our behaviours. Although I can see this theory as one that has remained over time, critics say it is too simplistic. It is a tempting idea to agree with, for, from a Behavioural Psychology view, the idea of a child copying their parents, being praised to be like them (in the sense of being conditioned) is one shown daily in developmental sciences. We, as humans, act towards how we are expected to.

However, as shown with separated twin studies, environment doesn’t necessary influence the way a person is going to turn out, behaviourally. Often, identical, monozygotic twins who are separated to different parents at birth lead surprisingly similar lives, such as naming their children the same or even falling down the stairs within months of each other (true story)!

That brings me to the idea of ‘genetic disposition’: where a person has the genes that shape their personalities. In some studies this theory has been proven. Children may be more disposed from birth to reject vegetables and other ‘green’ food[1]; a person may have a short temper- because of the innate, genetic code they have been born with.

It is difficult to consider, perhaps because of the fact that these genes must be recessive, perhaps passed through the parents to the child, leaving the idea of nurture more prominent. In the above case of behavioural aggression, television and many external stimuli are often blamed. But consider this: is someone aggressive because they watch or read aggressive articles- or do they expose themselves to aggressive living because of their nature? A variation on Euthyphro Dilemma[2].

We could apply the same concept to that of skill-acquisition: anyone can learn to play a musical instrument with practise, but if one is not musically gifted- naturally- then the sense of emotion is not there. There is a difference between playing accurately and playing with heart; and nativism implies the latter is born, not developed externally.

 

It was put to me: how do we solve the nature vs. nurture debate? In my opinion, we cannot- unless we could achieve absolute certainty of knowledge with regards to the human condition. How can we resolve a debate? Only by making sure that each party has said what they have needed to and have been satisfied by the responses of the other. For the time-being, with so little knowledge- in reality- about the mental states of humans as individuals and as a collective society, we cannot say whether certain behaviours are more influenced by internal or external factors. If a scientist claimed to have found an equal proof of both, he would be met with doubt, for it is nearly impossible to separate out all the potential variables that affect one person in one day of their lives, especially those of an active child.

I think that finding the answers would spoil the magic of learning them.

[1]This theory also has backing in the Psychology of food; the palate begins more inclined to sweet, salty, and savoury tastes, with more taste buds to those foods, whereas bitter foods- and perhaps what some vegetables might taste of- are not developed until after birth. The more exposure to these kinds of tastes then increase a child’s tolerance of them.

[2] The Euthyphro Dilemma is found in one of Plato’s dialogues: Are things good because God wills them, or does God will things because they are good? In a way, neither is correct. Applying this paradigm to Psychology is not utterly correct, but it suffices.

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