Nature VS Nurture Essay

Published 29 Aug 2016

Nature – Nurture Controversy: Ending the Controversy

The effect and influence of genes on human behavior correspond to one side of nature/nurture debate. Advocates on the nature side stand on the argument that genes primarily shape the outcome specifically in such traits as a person’s temperament, intelligence and personality. Support towards the nurture part of the debate argues that all that are in the environment, with such influences as education, day-to-day events or encounters, and the way individuals are being reared, are all dominant or principal influences of these traits. Generally, in this day and age, behavioral scientists do not take an either a solid nature or nurture stance. However, it has not diminished the controversy over which of heredity or environment has the greater influence on behavior. This paper stands on the issue that the dichotomy must eventually end: nature and nurture will both be determinants of human characteristics like intelligence, personality, and temperament; the social and political implications of this matter is further described and explained in detail in the discussion that follows.

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The question of whether heredity or environment is more important in determining the course of human development has been debated over the centuries.

For example, the seventeenth-century British philosopher John Locke rejected the prevailing notion of his day that babies were miniature adults who arrived in the world fully equipped with abilities and knowledge and who simply had to grow in order for these inherited characteristics to appear (Atkinson, et al. 1993).

Locke believed that the mind of a newborn infant is a “blank slate,” or a tabula rasa, as Aristotle thought so, too. What gets written on this slate is what the baby experiences – what he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and feels. According to Locke, all knowledge comes to us through our senses. It is provided by experience, no knowledge or ideas are built in (Atkinson, et al. 2000).

The advent of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859, which emphasizes the biological basis of human development, led to a return of the hereditarian viewpoint, with the rise if behaviorism in the twentieth century, however, the environmentalist’s position once again gained dominance (Atkinson, et al. 1993). The behaviorists’ standpoint, with the likes of BF Skinner, was that human nature is completely malleable: early training can turn a child into any kind of adult, regardless of his or her heredity (De Waal, 1). This is most exemplified in an individual’s activity.

My Stand on the Debate

I agree that not only that both nature and nurture play important roles in the human personality, but that they interact continuously to guide development. For me, there is no more debate or argument on whether nature or nurture, play a more major role in the development. The development of many traits, such as sociability and emotional stability, appear to be influenced about equally by heredity and environment; similarly, mental disorders can have both genetic and environmental causes.

In the articles reviewed, three authors pointed out strong convictions of their views and the equally solid rationale pertaining to each of their position relating to, in particular, the need to look at the contributions of both heredity and environment in human development. De Waal compellingly points out a wide-ranging scenario about his position including the not oversimplification of either of nature or nurture argument which was the common incidence in the past. The complexities that define humans help make us see that there is no shortcut so as to fully understand why we behave: this, De Waal elaborated in his comparative description on the sexual behavior of primates like the bonobos and the chimpanzees (6). This and other illustrations, like what he termed as “the Westermarck effect,” which is the “association in the first years of life appeared to compromise adult marital compatibility” (5) explains the nature side of the controversy convincingly. Equally, Parens pointed out abuses on the use of knowledge of genetics to advance any human political or ideological agenda. The pattern of reductionism has lengthily pulled the understanding of genetic influences on behavior and their implications to extremes, which should not be the case. He points out “that research into the genetics of behavior could actually help make our accounts of different ways of being in the world more complex” (Parens, 14). He further explains that “after all, as I suggested in the beginning, behavioral genetics is helping us to learn that any rich account of human behavior must, at a minimum, recognize the nonlinear and dynamic interactions within and between our “internal” and “external” environments” (14).

In addition, in Steven Pinker argument cements the same theme in yet again, that the discoveries and breakthroughs by developmental psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics “. .not only have shown that the innate organization of the brain cannot be ignored, but have also helped to reframe our very conception of nature and nurture (Pinker, 14)”. However, he effectively delineates the complications that “holistic interactionism” that pervades in order to avoid being too reductionist as harmful as well. As such, it must be reiterated that the study of human behavior remains to be complex and shall be treated as such, even in years to come.


In general, it can be argued that all behavior reflects the influence of both nature and nurture. All organisms inherit a range of structures that set the stage for certain behaviors. Yet environmental influence such as nutrition and learning also help decide whether or not genetically possible behaviors will be displayed. A potential Shakespeare who is reared in an impoverished neighborhood and never taught to read or write is unlikely to create a Hamlet. However, today, nearly all researchers would agree, broadly speaking, nature and nurture interact as the individual develops. This does not mean too, as the three authors sufficiently painted in their respective articles that the controversy will cease (for me there is no dichotomy); meaning, the debacle will resurrect in certain times and situations. That the reducing to a simplistic explanation and description will help weaken the debate, nor will the holistic interactionism in all the situations of man’s existence contribute towards this end. The tension will continue to exist because as Pinker points out, there are activities of man that will not be hurriedly explained by either of the last two approaches (reductionism or interactionism).

With my belief that there is no more argument between nature’s primary influences on behavior or that or nurture’s dominance, I admit that my capacity to understand or grasp the implications will remain to be limited. Even with the so-called experts of behavioral sciences, they are humans also and have limitations as well. A harmonious give and take relationship from various sectors of society will still be important to an understanding of human behavior.

Works Cited Page:

  1. Atkinson, R.L, RC Atkinson, EE Smith, DJ Bem, and S, Nolen-Hoeksema. 1993. Hilgard’s Introduction to psychology. 13th ed., new York: Harcourt College Publishers.
  2. De Waal, Frans B. “The End of Nature versus Nurture.” Scientific American 281.6 1999: 94 off.
  3. Parens, Erik. “Taking Behavioral Genetics Seriously.” Hastings Center Report 26.4 (1996): 13-5-18.
  4. Pinker, Steven. “Why Nature & Nurture Won’t Go Away.” Daedalus (Fall) 2004: 1-13.
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