The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines Nature as “persons or animal’s innate character, and innate meaning inborn”. This means that nature plays a large part in how humans inherit the physical characteristics of their parents, but also that their personalities and characters are predetermined by family genetics. The dictionary also defines nurture as “bringing up, fostering care” which implies learning and training to regulate or correct behaviour and thinking.
This essay will be presenting and evaluating the arguments presented by two psychologists Pinker and James and their theories regarding the influence of nature versus nurture on the development of human behaviour. This essay will also be looking at some of the theories on personality traits and behaviour. It will then evaluate and discuss the nature and nurture debate further from different areas of psychology to reach a conclusion from all the evidence gathered from research.
The debate between nature and nurture has a long history that has been vehement. The current debate between (the psychologists) Pinker and James is a particularly bitter row, with their two books on the subject being recently released and going head to head. The nature theory sees us as possessing inborn abilities and traits that shape our personalities. There are reasons why some people will believe that our genes play an important role in contributing to our intelligence especially when we consider the theory of hereditary (Gross 1992).
Our genes and chromosomes are passed onto our siblings from generation to generation, so we can safely say that without hereditary we as humans will have nothing to pass on to our descendants. For example a child born to a woman with blue eyes and blonde hair will grow up having the same eye colour and hair colour as the mother in most cases. In his book “The Blank Slate”.
Subtitled “The Modern Denial of Human Nature” (2002), Pinker argues that from the study of human evolution, it shows that parents have no influence over their children’s behaviours rather that our genes have a lot to play when it comes to our behaviours. Pinker supported his theory based on the experiment conducted by Thomas Bouchard who did an experiment on identical twin that were raised by separate adoptive parents and he concluded that he found critical inherited components to virtually all aspects of human personality.
Gordon Allport was an influential personality theorist who viewed traits as the building blocks of personality and the source of individuality (Zimbardo et al 1995). Allport saw personality structures, rather than environmental conditions as the critical determiners of individual behaviour. He was well known as an idiographic trait theorist, who through his work believed that people have some unique characteristics that allows them to be a singular entity, as well as having some common ones which together form a unique combinations of traits.
Heritability studies shows that most personality traits are influenced a great deal by genetics. There is a consensus among researchers, however that the characteristics which parents pass onto their children have a significant impact on the person they become (Plomin et al, 1990), for example there have been several studies carried out on adopted twins, and twins that were raised by their biological parents (Gleitman et al 1999), this was to determine whether there were inheritable components passed on from their parents.
One of such studies was the one carried out by (Heath et al 1989), in the studies they were trying to find out if alcoholism was a form of genetic defect, they carried out the experiment using 4,000 Austrian twins and they found out that compared with dizygotic (unidentical twins), monozygotic twins (identical twins) were more similar in the frequency of drinking and in the amount of alcohol consumption.
But we must remember that genes are expressed in an environment, which means that different genes are affected by environment in different ways, for example a person that has the genes for alcoholism will not become alcoholic unless they first consume alcohol, this means that the environmental factor of alcohol must be present. Twin studies have been used to study a range of psychological theories and each result have shown that genetic factors affect abilities such as language ability, mathematical skills and vocabulary skills (Carlson et al 2004), thereby supporting the theory of nature that our genes influence our behaviours.
The nurture theory is not saying that genetic tendencies does not exist, but they believe that they do not matter when it comes to shaping our personalities and behaviour but that our behaviours are shaped by our environment and our upbringing. James one of the supporters for the nurture theory in his book “They F*** You Up” subtitled “How to Survive Family Life” (2002) argues that our violent behaviours and tendencies are picked up from our parents.
He believes that our parent’s influence plays a great part in the shaping of our personalities. James based his arguments on several major European studies that showed that children born to violent parents but raised in a peaceable environment are likely not to be violent and that those born and raised by violent parents tended to be criminally aggressive. He believed that the care that we receive in infancy is very crucial to the shaping of our behavioural pattern and our future.
In trying to prove his point James in his book interviewed a lot of children that had been abused in their childhood and they began to reinvent the same abuse they received in their childhood on other people. One example from his book was Neil a rapist, when he was growing up he had little supervision and he was treated erratically and violently when his mother was present, Neil had no friends and as such when he was approached by a man near his house who was talking about fishing, he felt that he had found a friend.
Neil was abused by this man shortly afterwards. When he grew up the only way he could express the disgust at what was done to him by this man was to do the same to other people and that was how he became a rapist thinking that by raping this people he was exorcising the demons of the man out from him and into his victims. James said something in his book that is really interesting and that is “if a convicted violent man is asked about his childhood he will describe an astonishing catalogue of abuse.
If he is then asked to give account of the crimes he has committed against strangers, the displacements of his rage towards his parents will be demonstrated in the details of what he did to his victims, with precise re-enactment of some of the things that were done to him” (James 2002, pg 127)
This statement summarises James’s debate that the care that we receive as infants from our parents is very crucial to the shaping of our behaviours and that genes have no influence over our behaviours. John B Watson an American psychologist (1920) believed that human behaviour is as a result of nurture and that is because nurture included the ollowing: acquired behaviour, learned behaviour and environment.
Watson well known for his research on behaviourism developed what is known as Operant Conditioning. Watson and Rayner (1920), they carried out a study using an 11-month-old boy called Albert. What they did was to place Albert in a room with no other human but a white rat and Albert seemed to like the rat and even began to show affection towards the rat, but what Watson did afterwards was to produce a very loud and displeasing noise each time the little boy reached for the rat. As a result the boy became terrified of any white and furry object that he came across.
He then concluded, “that humans could be thought certain feelings and fear through their environment with which they were not born with” (Watson et al 1920), thereby supporting the theory of nurture as a great influence on human behaviour. Albert Bandura a well-known theorist did a study on aggression (1961) and he concluded that we learn our behaviours from our social environment and through this research Bandura developed his Social Learning Theory. His theory suggest that we can learn from role models or significant others simply by observing their behaviour.
Bandura in favour of the nurture debate believed that aggression mostly in children is learned through three principles of behaviour modelling. He believed that our aggressive behaviours are not inherited but rather that they are learned through observing others either personally, through media or our environment. He stated that people that were aggressive believed that aggression would produce the following three results, which are reducing tension, gaining financial reward or gaining the praise of others and building self-esteem.
He demonstrated this in the Bobo doll experiment where children watched a video where a model continuously hit a doll called the Bobo doll and afterwards the children were taken to another room where there were similar dolls like the ones they had just watched on the video and the experiment showed that 80 per cent of the children imitated the behaviour of the model adult in the video. He concluded that individuals that lived in high crime areas are more likely to commit crimes than those that live in low crime area, thereby supporting the theory of nurture.
Both arguments are really strong with tones of evidence on either side; the truth is no body really knows which has the upper hand in defining personality. What can be deduced is that environmental factors through nurture that relate to parenting, peer group pressure, social, geographic and economic status are highly influential on the development of personality, for instance and to put it simply, newly born children are not predisposed to hate or be racist, these are things that are taught to them or are acquired because of their surroundings.
It is therefore inevitable that children will acquire the personality traits of their parents because they share the same environment, but it is harder to prove that they have inherited these personality traits genetically.
- Bandura A. , Ross D. , Ross. S. (1961) Transmission of Aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Retrieved from the World Wide Web, October 20, 2004: http://www. garysturt. free-online. co. uk/bandura. htm.
- Carlson N. , Martin G. N. , Buskist W. (2004). Psychology. nd ed. Great Britain: Pearson Education.
- Gleitman H. , Fridlund A. J. , Reisberg D. (1999). Psychology. 5th ed. United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Gross R. D. (1992). Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 2nd ed: Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton.
- James O. (2002). They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life. Great Britain: Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Heath et al (1989). Cited in Carlson et al (2004) pg 89. Psychology. 2nd ed. Great Britain: Pearson Education.
- Pinker S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature: United Kingdom, Penguin Publishers.
- Plomin et al (1990). Cited in Zimbardo P. , McDermott M. , Jansz J. & Metaal N. (1995) pg 445-448.