Heredity & Environment interaction: The Nature × Nurture Debate in Psychology

Are genetic or environmental factors more important in influencing development? This is the age-old nature and nurture debate.

What is Nature?

Here, Nature means inborn biological givens—the hereditary information we receive from our parents at the moment of conception. Nature also refers to traits, abilities, and capacities inherited from one’s parents. It encompasses any factor that produced by the predetermined unfolding of genetic information—a process of maturation. These genetic, inherited influences are at work as we move from the one-cell organism created at the moment of conception to the billions of cells that make up a fully formed human. Nature influences our eyes are blue or brown, thick hair  or go bald, good or bad athletics. Nature allows our brains to develop in such a way that we can read the words on this page.

What is Nurture?

Nurture means the complex forces of the physical & social world that influence our biological makeup and psychological experiences before and after birth. Nurture also refers to the environmental influences that shape behavior. Some of these influences may be biological, such as the impact of a pregnant mother’s use of cocaine on her unborn child or the amount and kind of food available to children. Other environmental influences are more social, parents discipline their children and the effects of peer pressure on an adolescent.

Debate of Nature- Nurture in Psychology

Nature and nurture debate asks question- How children acquire language?  The answer is because they genetically predisposed to do so or because parents intensively teach them.

Some theorists emphasize stability —that children who are high or low in a characteristic (such as verbal ability, anxiety, or sociability) will remain so at later ages. These theorists typically stress the importance of heredity . If they regard environment as important, they usually point to early experiences as establishing a lifelong pattern of behavior. Powerful negative events in the first few years, they argue, cannot be fully overcome by later, more positive ones (Bowlby, 1980; Johnson, 2000; Sroufe, 2005).

Other theorists, taking a more optimistic view, see development as having substantial plasticity throughout life—as open to change in response to influential experiences (Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 2006; Lerner & Overton, 2008; Lester, Masten, & McEwen, 2006).

John Locke viewed the child as a tabula rasaLatin for “blank slate.” According to this idea, children begin as nothing at all; their characters shaped entirely by experience. He saw parents as rational tutors who can mold the child in any way they wish through careful instruction, effective example, and rewards for  good behavior. He suggested child-rearing practices – the use of praise and approval as rewards, rather than money or sweets and opposed physical punishment.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) claims, Children are not blank slates (empty containers) to be filled by adult instruction. Instead, they are noble savages, naturally endowed with a sense of right & wrong and an innate plan for orderly, healthy growth. Unlike Locke, Rousseau believed that children’s built-in moral sense and unique ways of thinking and feeling. Only adult training would harm it

British naturalist Charles Darwin (1809–1882) gave theory of evolution- Two principles: natural selection and survival of the fittest . Darwin explained that certain species survive in particular parts of the world. Because they have characteristics that fit with, or are adapted to, their surroundings. Other species die off because they are not as well-suited to their environments.

G. Stanley Hall (1844–1924), regarded as the founder of the child-study movement (Cairns & Cairns, 2006). Moreover, inspired by Darwin’s work, Hall & his student Arnold Gesell (1880–1961) developed theories based on evolutionary ideas-  a maturational process —a genetically determined series of events that unfold automatically, much like a flower (Gesell, 1933; Hall,1904). They gave Normative Period-   Measures of behavior are taken on large numbers of individuals and age-related averages are computed to represent typical development .

Baldwin’s view, neither the child nor the environment controlled development. Instead, he granted nature and nurture equal importance. Baldwin (1895) argued that heredity and environment should not be viewed as distinct, opposing forces. Instead, he claimed, most human characteristics are “due to both causes working together”

For this challenging question, we should consider the two sides of the nature–nurture issue as opposite ends of a continuum, with particular behaviors falling somewhere between the two ends.

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