Term Paper: Nature vs. Nurture Debate

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[. . .] Siblings then would not differ. Mendel's theory, however, shows that siblings can be expected to differ in hereditary traits. Because parents each have two elements and offspring inherit one element from each parent, siblings have only a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting the same element." (Dunn, and Plomin 1990)


According to DNA and Destiny: Nature and Nurture in Human Behavior, Nurture is defined as the social environment that surrounds and protects the child from birth to independence. This would include early interactions with parents and siblings, as well as the more sporadic interactions with whatever members of the extended family happen to be around. Somewhat later the environment expands to include teachers and friends, and these parts of the social environment assume greater and greater importance with the passing years. Finally, those persons with whom an adolescent or young adult has lasting friendships or love relationships play an increasingly important role, whether those persons are of the same or of the opposite sex. (Steen 1996)

Steen (1996) asserts that nurture is vitally important in sustaining life and determining human behavior. The book asserts that children can be affected by their environments before they are even born. For instance, drug abuse by a pregnant woman can impact the cognitive development of her child. (Steen 1996) Likewise, environmental pollutants can impact the birth weight of a child and the child's physical and mental health. (Steen 1996)

Once a child is born it must be properly nurtured in order to thrive. This means that the child must have a proper diet, attention and love. Nurture is initially given by the parents and family members. The book explains that a mother's interaction with the child is extremely important throughout the life of the child and during infancy. Steen (1996) asserts that Direct interactions between the infant and the mother immediately after birth are extremely important, and the relationship with the mother remains important for the entire life of the child. The personality of the child and that of the mother can interact in a very important way to give this relationship a structure that may last a lifetime. Many neonatal behaviors seem designed to elicit warmth and nurturance from the mother. But if a child is somehow deficient in giving these signals, or if the mother is deficient in receiving these signals, this deficiency can have a major impact on the child. (Steen 1996)

Steen (1996) also contends that the way that a child structures his own environment is important to his development. The author asserts that human beings are constantly structuring their environment and that children are no exception to this rule.

Steen (1996) also points to the ill effects of environmental deprivation. The book asserts that such deprivation can affect human beings ability to develop and get along with others in society. The author explains that environment deprivation can have a negative impact on children as well as adults.

In his book, Ever since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History

Stephen Jay Gould asserts that people that believe that nature is the primary factor that determines human behavior have based these beliefs on the study of animals and not the study of human beings. Gould (1977) asserts that he is not a strict nurturist but instead he believes in the concept of biological potentiality vs. biological determinism. This concept asserts that biological factors play a role in determining human behavior but that nurture can also play a large role in the way people behave. Gould (1977) seems to believe that a strictly naturist point-of-view can not truly be established when discussing human behavior. Gould (1977) contends,

What is the direct evidence for genetic control of specific human social behavior? At the moment, the answer is none whatever. (It would not be impossible, in theory, to gain such evidence by standard, controlled experiments in breeding, but we do not raise people in Drosophila bottles, establish pure lines, or control environments for invariant nurturing.) Sociobiologists must therefore advance indirect arguments based on plausibility... In any case, even if we can compile a list of behavioral traits shared by humans and our closest primate relatives, this does not make a good case for common genetic control. Similar results need not imply similar causes; in fact, evolutionists are so keenly aware of this problem that they have developed a terminology to express it. Similar features due to common genetic ancestry are "homologous"; similarities due to common function, but with different evolutionary histories, are "analogous" (the wings of birds and insects, for example the common ancestor of both groups lacked wings)." (Gould 1977)

Gould (1977) goes on to explain that the behavioral traits shared between humans and other primates are analogous. He argues that most human behavior is adaptive. Gould points to the fact that people in different areas of the world have customs that Westerners don't understand or approve of. He also insists that the various emotions that we have balance one another out and that we have the ability and the power to choose how we behave.

Gould (1977) also asserts that our social structure can aid us in choosing our behavior. He explains, "imagine that specific genes for aggression, dominance, or spite have any importance when we know that the brain's enormous flexibility permits us to be aggressive or peaceful, dominant or submissive, spiteful or generous? Violence, sexism, and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviors. But peacefulness, equality, and kindness are just as biological and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish." (Gould 1977)

The impact of parenting and nurture can not be denied. In societies throughout the world there have been situations in which children have been born to parents with low intelligence but have high intelligence. One of the only explanations for this phenomenon is the impact of parenting. (Dunn and Plomin 1990)

Discussion and conclusion

The purpose of this discussion is to discuss both sides of issue and to develop an opinion about which side seems more accurate. Our investigation found that those on the nature side of the debate believe that human behavior is shaped by biological factors. Individuals on this side of the debate point to various studies amongst siblings which indicate that siblings can grow up in the same environment and display totally different behaviors.

At the other end of the spectrum we found that individuals on the nurture side of the debate believe that human behavior is a result of environmental influences. Individuals on this side of the debate argue that the interactions that a person has with their environment can greatly impact their behavior. They point to studies that suggest that the failure of a mother to properly bond with a newborn can be detrimental to their development and the behavior that they display.

Although both sides make some very valid points concerning the factors that influence human behavior, it seems that nurture can be the deciding factor in the way a human behaves. Indeed, it seems apparent that people are born with certain traits that shape their personalities. However, it is also apparent that their behavior -- how they respond in their environment-- is almost wholly dependent upon the nurture that they receive. For example, a person can be inherently temperamental but the way that they are nurtured can teach them how to control their temper and to behave in ways that can allow them to thrive in society. On the other hand if the temperamental person is not properly parented they will have a difficult time behaving. In either case the deciding factors were environmentally influenced. So then it seems apparent that personality is a result of nature but human behavior is a result of nurture.



Dunn, J., & Plomin, R. (1990). Separate Lives: Why Siblings Are So Different. New York: Basic Books. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=98845823

Gould, S.J. (1977). Reflections in Natural History. New York: Norton. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=99473592

Plomin, R. & McClearn, G.E. (Eds.). (1993). Nature, Nurture, & Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pinker, Steven. (October 13, 2002) Sibling rivalry: Why the nature/nurture debate won't go away. Boston Globe. pg D1

Pinker, Steven. (2002) The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Penguin USA www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=84393886

Steen, R.G. (1996). DNA and Destiny Nature and Nurture in Human… [END OF PREVIEW]

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