Nature and Nurture Term Paper

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Nature and Nurture


One of the most fundamental debates in human developmental still harkens back to the seventeenth century argument over NATURE vs. NURTURE. The question then arises whether or not our personalities themselves can truly change along the way, become damaged or renewed at only certain critical stages of development, or at any time along the journey. Are these changes qualitative and transformational or quantitative and additive over time? The only certainty is that change does happen and that it appears to have a developmental direction (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 126). Just what that direction is, is still up to some speculation. The dispute over the nature vs. nurture debate has generated a distinctive polar range of opinions and expectations relating to the surfacing and control of behavior, but neither side sufficiently explains many of the more complicated behavior seen in the myriad of diverse species present on this earth, including humans. (Long, 2003, p. 29)

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Many behaviors have strong learning components, and others seen not at all influenced by experiential factors. The recent view in developmental biology suggests that the emergence of simple and complex behaviors is a result of interplay between gene expression, pre- and post-birth development, and environmental influences, including, but not limited to, sensory experience (Gilbert, 1994; Kandel et al., 2000). Thus, the appearance of behavioral traits falls along a continuum between strictly genetically controlled (nature) pathways and fully experientially controlled (nurture) pathways, with the majority of behaviors having some components of both. Indeed, genes do not generate behaviors in a vacuum, and environmental influences on gene expression (Long, 2003, p 31)

TOPIC: Term Paper on Nature and Nurture Assignment

Throughout history, philosophers, scientists and shamans have debated over how much of who we are is based on instinct and innate predisposition, and how much on the life we experience after birth. At one end of the spectrum rationalists propose that essentially all of human knowledge is innate. At the other end, radical empiricists, impressed by the quickly changing and adapting states of an infant and by the tremendous impact that culture and environment has on an individual, posit that all knowledge is acquired. (Churchland, 2004, p. 42-43) in the current millennium there seems to be the beginnings of a meeting of the minds for the majority of researchers, "Instead, a majority believe that individual differences in human abilities cannot be adequately understood without introducing a genetic component as well" (Tremblay & Gagne, 2001, p. 173).

Although the beginning of life takes place in the womb, once the child begins to breath on his or her own (some would say even before), the dance between nurture and nature begins to take place. Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory clearly explains the connection and relationship among living things and the environment they experience. He sates that personality and change are proximal interrelated processes, "These are reciprocal interactions between an 'active, evolving, biopsychological human organism and the persons, object, and symbols in its immediate external environment'" (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 14). His model illustrates how social influences impacts human survival and one's ability to thrive and reproduce. Human development is inseparable from the environmental contexts in which a child develops. His study illustrates how the four levels of environmental influence (microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem macrosystem) impacts the full range of human development including mentally, psychologically, emotionally as well as socially. Brofenbrenner's ecological theory of development enhances our understanding of the interaction of culture, family and society and how these intricate interconnects help to develop and shape human behavior (Vander Zandan, 2000, p. 181-183).

However, knowledge that is displayed at birth is most likely to be innate. Most mammalian infants have instinctive behaviors to seek out warmth, and sustenance. A human infant will be able to imitate expressions, such as a smile or sticking out their tongue in mirror response to their caregivers. But other types of knowledge, such as how to ride a bicycle or build a fire, are obviously learned after being born (Churchland, 2004, p. 44). Genetics certainly prepares one for life and the ability to experience and learn from it. Neurologically, synaptogenesis is the explosive development of the brain's synapses that occurs as the brain grows and develops both within the womb and after birth.

Dawson, Klinger, et al. (1992) found that infants of depressed mothers showed a decrease in distress and an increase in left frontal lobe activity when separated from their mothers as compared to control infants, who showed an increase in distress and right frontal lobe activity. These researchers hypothesized that the infants' higher left-brain activity indicates this hemisphere's role in inhibiting negative emotions. In both these studies, environmental differences were correlated with differential brain development. (Strickland, 2001, p. 103)

There are two major processes regarding synaptic growth in the human brain, one is experience-expectant and the other is experience-dependent. Experience-expectant synaptogenesis prepares the brain to learn quickly from environmental experiences. Conversely, a lack of the experience results in the elimination of these excess synapses. Experience-dependent synaptogenesis is the direct development of synapses resulting from environmental stimulation (Strickland, 2001, p. 103).

De Bellis et al. (1999) found a negative correlation between CC size and severity of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in abused children and adolescents, as compared to non-abused controls. Conversely, they found a positive correlation between the size of lateral ventricles and PTSD symptoms of intrusive thoughts, avoidance, and hypervigilance (Strickland, 2001, p. 105).

It is important to understand the interconnected behavior involved in the nature vs. nurture issue. It seems that science has shown us that it is unrealistic to believe in either of the polar opposite theories that a human being and his or her subsequent personality is all nature or all nurture. Instead it is appearing in the research as a reciprocal combination of both in varying degrees. What is becoming clearer through the fields of developmental and ecological psychology is that the nature vs. nurture dichotomy is becoming more of a millstone than a life raft in addressing the enormous flexibility in human brains. To continue to promote the either / or argument is akin to attempting to use the concept of good vs. evil as the essential guideline for understanding the complex and often convoluted machinations of politics and government. "It is not that there is nothing to it. But it is like using a grub hoe to remove a splinter" (Churchland, 2004, p. 50).

As stated earlier, Bronfenbrenner's ecological theory shows the nurture side of the spectrum and there has been a tendency to allocate the complexity of human psychology and sociology to this one side, leaving the more simple instinctive behavior to the nature classification. Recent stories have shown that even complex behaviors originally considered too multifaceted for hardwiring do in fact have strongly innate components. For insistence, pioneering work on behaving chimeras (animal subjects with transplanted parts from another animal subject) has shown that the very complex behavior such as the recognition of their mother's unique maternal call is hardwired into the brain. Studies with infant monkeys whose brain sections responsible for this activity were transplanted, recognized the opposites mother's call rather than their biological parent's (Long, 2003, p. 35). This work certainly indicates that very complex processes which may have a strong underlying and undeniable biological origin in the form of early predispositions:

Recent work on genetic correlates to psychophysiological disorders like alcoholism and addiction (Kendler et al., 1997; Nestler, 2000), and research on genetic correlates of learning (Kandel, 2001; Plomin & Walker, 2003) suggest that understanding the biological nature of predispositions may be more important to the analysis and prediction of outcomes in seemingly complex behaviors than previously thought. (Long, 2003. p.38-39)

Adoption studies, twin studies and other family design research in combination with sophisticated longitudinal and statistical studies have been used to investigate the idea of inheritable tendencies. This has in turn created the fledgling field of behavioral genetics, which has offered evidence of the heritability of many traits including cognitive, personality attitudes, schizophrenia, addictive behaviors and sexual orientation as well as many others (Freese, Li & Wade, 2003). It must be noted however, that this is an imprecise science at this stage and various groups have made many claims regarding the veracity and fallibility of these studies. These debates occur quite often between religious activists and scientists regarding the ethical dilemmas that arise when predicting genetic tendencies towards certain personality traits. The issue then occurs for the parent and/or society to decided that these traits may be undesirable and choose to terminate a given pregnancy on that basis alone (Fausto-Sterling, 2007, p. 47-48; O'Neil, 2001, p. 33).

Conversely, the benefits of this research may be tremendous, but the consequences must be evaluated:

If, for example, we were able to diagnose, by the prick of a needle on a baby's foot, that the individual may have a propensity for violence, should not the state intervene to ensure that circumstances might be manipulated to create the best possible environment for the child? Similarly, if a criminal… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Nature and Nurture.  (2008, March 20).  Retrieved September 19, 2021, from

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"Nature and Nurture."  March 20, 2008.  Accessed September 19, 2021.