Nature Nurture Controversy Related to Aggression Reaction Paper

Pages: 5 (1720 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Psychology

Nature/Nurture and Mental Illness

The nature/nurture debate has sparked a deluge of research over the last five decades or so. The findings have been applied to many different areas of human life, including the propensity for intelligence and aptitude, as well as the less positive aspects of life such as aggression and criminal activity. Other factors that have been subject to these investigations include factors that are apparently beyond human control, such as mental illness and even homosexuality. Many of these studies have found that mental illness tends to be the result of genetic factors (nature) rather than environmental factors (nurture). More recently, however, a new set of studies have investigated the potential of the interaction between nature and nurture to influence mental illness more strongly than either of the two factors alone. This provides some hope for sufferers and their families, that environmental factors might be modified to at least mitigate mental illness, even thought it is hardly likely to represent a cure.

Jafee and Price (2007, p. 432) make a note of studies that have been done to demonstrate the influence of genetic factors upon the environment. The basis of such studies is the notion that inherent personality factors have an influence upon the environment within which the individual finds him- or herself. In addition, the studies appear to suggest that particular environments, for this reason, could become heritable.

This, however, has sparked further debate about the extent of influence, with some scientists emphasizing the absurdity of attempts to identify inherent factors such as the "divorce gene." Nevertheless, this has not prevented studies to continue emphasizing that the environment could have a significant part to play, particularly in socially destructive conditions such as mental illness. What it boils down to, according to Jafee and Price (2007, p. 438), the identified interaction between genetic factors and the environment has created the possibility that even highly inheritable diseases such as mental illness could be prevented or at least mitigated by modifying environmental factors. An important factor that t his study emphasizes is that, while environmental factors have been suggested that might interact with certain genotypes to suggest a higher susceptibility for mental illness, such investigations have been far from conclusive. Hence, it is important to cultivate a further understanding by means of further study. It is, however, encouraging to consider that the environment has a greater influence than was initially supposed, especially in terms of mental illness. On the other hand, however, it is clear that the interaction of these influences is far from simple.

Wermter et al. (2010, p. 199) focus their study on the progress of techniques to study human susceptibility genes. The authors note that the relative inconsistency in results when attempting to identify susceptibility genes could be related to the general disregard for environmental factors and the interaction between the environment and susceptibility genes in mental disorders (Wermter et al., 2010, p. 200). This could have influenced studies on persons from different environments, where the influence of the latter could have affected the consistency of genetically influenced results. The authors note that the increasing emphasis on environmental factors as influencing and influenced by genetic factors has created an increasing acceptance of this notion in the study of mental illnesses.

This has created a platform of acceptable further study into the likelihood of environmental and genetic factors to interact in the likelihood and exacerbation of mental illness. Like Jafee and Price (2007), Wermter et al. (2010) emphasize the need to focus investigation on specific areas, including the conditions under which genetic/environmental interactions occur, the mechanisms that drive this interaction, and the apparent selective nature of the certain influences that have an effect and others that do not.

What has been found is that there are significant associations between environmental

exposure and schizophrenia in terms of factors such as paternal age, migration, obstetric complications, urbanicity, and cannabis use (Wermter et al., 2010, p. 205). What complicates these factors is the individual's genetic propensity for mental illness. This is why, according to the authors mentioned above, it is important to continue studying the dynamic between environmental and genetic factors in the presentation of mental illness. For this reason, it is surmised that the differentiating factors in environmental response is genetic propensity; where not all persons would respond to all environments in the same way.

In terms of future study, Wermter et al. (2010) emphasize the need to focus on the developmental stages of mental illness, since this has been underemphasized in studies relating to the nature of genetic and environmental influences. The findings of such studies could then also have important implications for future prevention and mitigation efforts.

Lahey, D'Onofrio and Walman (2010) are in agreement with this, where they note that etiologic research needs to focus on identifying causal risk factors for child and adolescent mental disorders. This could have important implications for the definitions of mental health phenotypes as provided in documents such as ICD-10 and DSM-IV. The authors make a note of the importance of identifying causal factors, especially for early-onset mental disorders. Increasingly, therefore, authors are acknowledging that: a) Mental disorders do not occur in isolation; and b) mental disorders should be studied during the developmental phase to identify mitigating or influencial environmental variables.

In my view, these are important developments, since it could influence the way in which mental illness is treated and viewed. If the environment could influence the development of mental illness in certain genotypes, for example, surely a modified environment could prevent its development. An interesting further study might consider the possibility of mitigating existing mental illness by means of environmental factors. This could be based upon an individual's development stages and environmental factors that encouraged the development of the illness in the first place.

Roth et al. (2009) focus their study of this interaction between environment and genetic factors specifically on the manifestation of schizophrenia. According to the authors, research has suggested the influence of both environment and genes in the development of the illness. Interestingly, the research has also found that the epigenetic mechanisms associated with schizophrenia remain labile not only in children or adolescents, but throughout the lifespan, even after the illness has developed. This means that they can be altered by environmental factors.

An important finding is that schizophrenia is the result of both genetic and non-genetic factors. Non-genetic risk factors include marijuana and obstetric complications, as noted above. It has also been found that some candidate genes that interact with severe obstetric complications could increase the risk of developing the condition.

Again, the authors emphasize that much further research will be necessary. However, there is a marked possibility of alternative drugs, other than psychotropic substances, that could mitigate the effects of schizophrenia, especially in the cognitive environment. These are encouraging results, since the current range of drugs available for the condition tend to be highly volatile in terms of side-effects, leading to a high rate of non-compliance with treatment regimes. This in itself, together with the typical lack of insight that the average patient displays regarding his or her condition, has resulted in a lack of effectiveness associated with current treatments, making the illness all the more tragic.

Studies like that by Roth et al. (2009), however, provide some hope at least in terms of more effective treatments. Specifically, the authors note that drugs that modify chromatin might be more effective than psychotropics in mitigating the condition in adult patients. Furthermore, studies that are continuing on epigenetic marks in normal brain development and the regulation of normal cognition in post-mortem brain tissue could provide valuable comparative insight for schizophrenia patients, and indeed, for patients with other mental disorders. Indeed, more effective therapeutic strategies, which might, in the future, include a combination of drugs and environmental modifications, could result in better mitigation rates for the illness.

Personally, I find studies like these very encouraging. Mental illness is one of the most devastating conditions that has affected humankind for the duration of its existence. We live in a time during which a better understanding of such conditions has created a compassion for sufferers, rather than the historical horror that is so often graphically portrayed in museums and textbooks.

There is now a new understanding on the horizon, that environmental factors indeed do interact with genetics to either exacerbate or mitigate the conditions. This creates hope that, one day, there might be many more treatment options than today. Although the psychiatric profession has developed by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the 20th century, it is by no means at the peak of its effectiveness. Indeed, psychiatrists have much to learn about the brain, which is largely still a mystery to physical and mental scientists alike.

Perhaps the study of environmental factors and their influence in the development of mental illness is just the next step that psychiatrists need to improve their game plan, particularly for patients who find it difficult not only to understand their illness, but… [END OF PREVIEW]

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