Term Paper: Human Biological Variation Is Human Behavior Genetically Influenced or Biologically

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Human Biological Variation: Is human behavior genetically influenced or biologically influenced?

For decades, scientists and philosophers of every sort have attempted to determine whether nature or nurture was the more important factor in human behavior. Theologians, also, have entered the debate, as -- in the wake of questions of how to treat various socially influential 'behaviors' such as gender identification and homosexuality -- coming to some conclusion regarding the genesis of human behaviors seems more compelling. The work to date on the subject seems to point in the direction of a duality, although one aspect of that duality might be worthy of slightly more weight. It would seem that there is a consensus across many fields of study that nature is more largely responsible in determining human characteristics than nurturing by agents of enculturation, but that culture does have a great influence on behavior.

Background

Behavior is one of the most complex and interesting of human characteristics and like many other characteristics, such as height or weight, behavior has come to be understood to reflect a combination of influences, some genetic, others environmental. While it had for many years been assumed that behavior was essentially all learned, in recent years advances in a number of techniques have allowed researchers new and provocative glimpses into the genetic basis of human behavior. Moreover, numerous disciplines, from anthropology to law to zoology, have contributed studies and data to more reliably determining the relative contributions of genetics and environment to human life issues. It appears, especially in light of the discovery of various genetic markers for all sorts of human characteristics, that nature is more largely responsible in determining human characteristics than is nurturing by agents of socialization. However, the environment -- our human cultures and the resulting enculturation of individuals -- may be more greatly responsible for shaping an individual's behavior than are that person's genetics.

The following preliminary research will explore some of the aspects of the nature vs. nurture controversy. The complex interplay between genotype and phenotype are variables studied via findings in various disciplines to determine if the genotype (nature aspect) is more influential than the phenotype (the nurture aspect) in determining human behavior.

Literature Review

On the theory that no behavior is more emblematic of a person's behavior than their sexual behavior, which arises from their sexual identity, a study of gender identification and the nature-nurture debate seems a logical one to decide the issue without dissent. (it should be noted, however, that arguably, a case might be made that this is not so, at least in the case of transgendered individuals and those whose behavior includes such contrarian behaviors as cross-dressing.) However, an article by Hausman (2000), dissects the results of enculturation of (and often surgery upon) individuals born with indeterminate physical sexual identifying characteristics. Hausman uses the case of twin sex reassignment to comment on the way gender operates in the nature vs. nurture debate, at least in terms of gender identity.

Hausman (2000, p. 115) cited research noting, "96% of intersex infants are 'made into girls' (Dreger 1999). One in 1500 infants are born with genitalia so unusual that sex assignment into the standard categories of male and female is difficult, although one in 200 or 300 infants are referred to surgery because of 'somewhat problematic' genital configurations, such as hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra does not exit from the tip of the penis (Dreger 1999)."

While that was standard procedure for years, a case involving a child who had lost his penis in the first year of life and was surgically changed into a girl was causing medicine to rethink its assumptions: after reaching the age of reason, the child "was living as a man." Some who studied the case decided it demonstrated that "gender identity is not malleable before a specific age, as Money had originally asserted, but that it is innate and based on chromosomal and hormonal sex factors" (Hausman, 2000, p. 115). Hausman (200, p. 116) also noted "the case in all its guises demonstrates that gender identity is the result of a process of self-naming that is embedded within the cultural milieu and influenced by its gender stories." These are contrary claims; however, they do substantiate the concept that nature is the prime causative factor of behavior, but that culture also plays a role in influencing behavior. Arguably, based on this case, genotype would influence gross behavior (male or female) and phenotype would influence the particularization of that behavior.

Hausman (2000, p. 117) attributes this particularization to "narrative." She notes that usually, "narratives make sense, literally by producing the patterns through which we learn to understand the world around us, patterns which become models for how 'sense' is made." Eventually, to help explain enculturation in general, Hausman notes, "repetition of patterns is one way in which the sense of ideas as narratives (that is, as particular ordered tellings, as stories) is lost, and the information conveyed becomes instead a set of received ideas, facts without narrative history." She concludes that whether our physical makeup (which in her construct, unfortunately, does not necessarily imply genotype), "none of us is fully a 'boy' or a 'girl' until that identity is made for us by our family and community and embraced by us' (Hausman, 2000, p. 117).

Using narrative, as Hausman does, is not too far from some modern anthropological means of investigating the nature/nurture dichotomy. Noting that "cognitive anthropology is essentially an inferential study', since anthropologists infer informants' ways of thinking from linguistic expressions," Astuti (2001) attempted to describe how the Veso of Madagascar "reason about the distinction between birth and nurture, organism and person, mind and body."

Indeed, Astuti (2001, p. 429) notes, the Veso "find the suggestion that birth parents have exclusive claims over their children morally problematic, and they express this view in a variety of ways. Thus, they seemingly do not 'see' resemblances between parents and their offspring." That does not mean, of course, that the resemblances do not exist, but it does indicate that society is partially responsible for the importance placed on genetics vs. culture. Indeed, the seem to take a leap into metaphysics and quantum physics (or to a cultural anthropologist studying primitive peoples, magic) to explain, later on, why a baby might come to resemble other people than their parents. "For example, if a pregnant woman spends a lot of time talking to a friend, the friend is said to 'steal' some of the baby's facial traits; if she takes a strong dislike to someone, her baby will look like the disliked person" (Astuti, 2001, p. 429). Astuti concluded it socialized parenthood; it could easily be argued that it proves beyond doubt that 'nurture' has a significant effect on the individual, not only his or her behavior but his or her physiognomy as well (although, of course, one would have to investigate the gene donations among the members of the group to be more definitive in this matter.)

Because anthropological investigation is dependant on so many fields other than itself for contributions, from art to linguistics to zoology, it is reasonable to look at psychology, as well, for some insight. Moore, in the Psychological Record, asked the nature/nurture question as plainly as it is possible to ask. He asked:

1. How is an organism's behavior functionally related to its environment?

2. How do the organism's neural and hormonal systems mediate those functional relations?" (Moore, 2002, p. 261+)

While Moore seemed to be more interested in the second question, as indicated by his discipline alone, he did remark regarding the first question that there are apparently three factors regarding the relation between environmental circumstances and an organism's behavior. Citing Catania & Harnad, 1988, he proposed, "These relations exist at phylogenic, ontogenic, and cultural levels" (Moore, 2002, p. 261+).

Moore took his quest to a basic level, considering the nature vs. nurture question in terms of species survival. He wrote, "suppose that certain forms of responsiveness favor survival. Organisms that possess these forms survive for one reason or another the forms of innate responsiveness contribute to a behavioral definition of a species, as a kind of a behavioral phenotype" (2002, p. 261+).

He regarded this as "conditioned respondent behavior that occurs "when stimulus a, which initially did not elicit a response within a particular response system, comes to do so because of a close and consistent relation between stimulus a and stimulus B, which initially did elicit a response within the response system in question" (Moore, 2002, p. 261+). In short, he argues that a learning curve of some sort is responsible for human behavior that allows the species to continue, at least. This still does not address, however, if there are differences within the response behaviors that are dependent on genotype. While all humans might run from fire, might those of varying genotypes do so in different ways? Moreover, might those of different cultures eventually have an impact in imprinting the genotype with a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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