Nature Versus Nurture Environment Or Genetics

For decades, the scientific community has been asking itself whether our genetic makeup, or the environments in which we are raised influence who we become in life. Some researchers think the genes we inherit from our parents guide our development. Others, however, think our environment has a stronger role in shaping who we eventually become. Of course, many believe that both environment and genetics play a strong role in our development.

In the nature versus nurture debate, the term “nature” refers to the genes we inherit while the term “nurture” refers to our outside environment.

Differences Between Nature and Nurture

When people talk about nature versus nurture, they aren’t talking about our physical traits. There’s little doubt that a person’s hair color or skin color is determined by his genes. Rather, the nature versus nurture debate seeks to understand how a person develops factors such as personality, behaviors and intelligence.

Scientists researching this debate, for instance, might ask whether a person’s optimistic personality is formed as a result of the genes he inherited from his happy-go-lucky parents or as a result of being surrounded by positive people during his formative years.

Tabula Rasa: The Blank Slate Theory

The Latin phrase “tabula rasa” translates into “blank slate.” Researchers who believe a person is shaped wholly by his environment are said to support the Tabula Rasa theory of development.

History of Nature versus Nurture

The nature versus nurture debate can be traced all the way back to 13th century France. While Francis Galton used the terms “nature” and “nurture” in 1874 to discuss the influence of genetics and environment on a person’s development, similar terms were used to debate the same topic at least 600 years earlier.

In his work English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, which was originally published in 1874, Galton states: “[Nature and nurture are] a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence that affects him after his birth.”

In 1911, a 13th century manuscript titled Silence was discovered. Interestingly, Silence also uses the terms “nature” and “noreture” (for nurture) to discuss the elements that work to shape personality.

Although the nature versus nurture debate has been a hot topic for hundreds of years, researchers have never been able to come up with a definitive answer. What we do know, however, is that both heredity and environment play a role in shaping our personalities and behaviors. We have yet to determine how much each factor contributes.

Controversies on Heredity versus Environment

The nature versus nurture debate isn’t without its controversies. Some of the issues that have stirred conflict in the debate include homosexuality and obesity. While some scientists strongly believe that both sexuality and weight are inherited, many think that both are shaped, at least in part, by our environment.

Studying Nature versus Nurture

To study the influence of genetics and environment on humans, scientists often turn to twin studies. By comparing sets of identical twins who were raised apart and those who were raised in the same environment, scientists can view the impact of nature and nurture.

Identical twins have the same genetic makeup. Thus, by studying twins who were raised apart and who were raised in the same household, we can see the influence of both genetics and environment.

Twin studies often show us that while genes greatly determine who we are, our environment also plays a large role in our development.

Resources

Associated Content Staff. (2005). The childhood development nature vs. nurture debate continues. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from the Associated Content Web site: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/16572/the_childhood_development_nature_vs.html?cat=25.

Macalaster College Staff. (n.d.). Nature vs. nurture debate. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from the Macalaster College Web site: http://www.macalester.edu/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/intelligence05/Rheredity.html.

Schmid, R. (2009). Nature vs. nurture begins in the womb. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from the Discovery Channel Web site: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/02/03/nature-nurture.html.

The Contrary Son Blog Staff. (2007). Tabula rasa, or not tabula rasa, that is the question. Retrieved September 24, 2009, from the Contrary Son Blog Web site: http://thecontraryson.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/tabula-rasa-or-not-tabula-rasa-that-is-the-question/.