Both Nature and Nurture Influence Human Behaviour

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According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, Nature is described as the inherent nature of individuals or animals, implying that it is innate. This means that nature not only affects the physical characteristics passed down from parents but also shapes personalities and traits based on family genetics. Additionally, the dictionary defines nurture as the act of raising and providing care, which involves teaching and guiding to control or improve behavior and thought processes.

This essay aims to examine and assess the perspectives of psychologists Pinker and James regarding the impact of nature versus nurture on human behavior development. Additionally, it will explore theories concerning personality traits and behavior. Furthermore, it will critically analyze the nature versus nurture debate in psychology from various angles, ultimately drawing a conclusion based on research evidence.

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The ongoing nature versus nurture debate has sparked intense controversy over time. Psychologists Pinker and James have recently contributed to the dispute with their opposing books on the subject, resulting in a direct clash in the market. The nature theory posits that our innate abilities and characteristics greatly influence our personalities. Numerous individuals contend that our genetic makeup plays a crucial part in shaping intelligence, particularly when considering the notion of heredity (Gross 1992).

“The Blank Slate” explores the notion that our genetic code, which is transmitted across generations, ensures that we have traits to pass on to future offspring. One instance of this is when a child inherits the blue eyes and blonde hair of their mother.

According to Pinker’s 2002 book “The Modern Denial of Human Nature,” he asserts that our behaviors are primarily influenced by our genes rather than parental influence. To support this claim, Pinker references an experiment conducted by Bouchard which involved identical twins raised in different adoptive families. The study concluded that inherited factors play a significant role in shaping various aspects of human personality.

Gordon Allport, an influential personality theorist, believed that traits are the foundation of personality and the source of individuality (Zimbardo et al 1995). Allport emphasized that personality structures, rather than external circumstances, play a vital role in determining an individual’s behavior. He was renowned as an idiographic trait theorist, asserting that every person possesses unique characteristics that make them distinct individuals, along with common traits that collectively constitute a one-of-a-kind combination.

Research on heritability reveals that genetics play a substantial role in shaping most personality traits. Yet, researchers widely agree that the characteristics inherited from parents also have a significant influence on an individual’s development (Plomin et al, 1990). For instance, various studies have examined adopted twins and twins raised by their biological parents (Gleitman et al 1999) to investigate the presence of inheritable factors passed down from parents.

(Heath et al 1989) conducted a study to investigate the genetic causes of alcoholism. They examined a cohort of 4,000 Austrian twins and found that monozygotic (identical) twins displayed higher similarities in terms of both drinking frequency and alcohol consumption compared to dizygotic (unidentical) twins.

When discussing genes, it is crucial to recognize that their effects can be influenced by the environment. For example, individuals who have a genetic tendency towards alcoholism will only develop the condition if they consume alcohol. Therefore, in this scenario, the presence of alcohol as an environmental factor becomes significant. Twin studies have been utilized to examine various psychological theories and consistently indicate that genetic factors contribute to abilities such as language proficiency, mathematical aptitude, and vocabulary skills (Carlson et al 2004). Consequently, these findings support the idea that our behaviors are impacted by our genes.

The nurture theory acknowledges genetic tendencies but stresses that they have minimal effect on shaping our personalities and behavior. Instead, it is our environment and upbringing that exert the strongest influence on our behaviors. James, an advocate of this theory, delves into this idea in his book “They F*** You Up” (2002), which centers around navigating family life. According to James, we acquire violent behaviors and inclinations from our parents.

According to James, our personalities are greatly influenced by our parents. His arguments are supported by major European studies, which found that children born to violent parents but raised in a peaceful environment are less likely to be violent. Conversely, those born and raised by violent parents tend to display criminal aggression. James emphasized the importance of the care we receive during infancy in shaping our behavior and future.

James conducted interviews with several children who had suffered from childhood abuse and found that many of them went on to replicate the same abusive behavior. Among those mentioned in his book is Neil, who became a rapist. During his upbringing, Neil received little supervision and faced unpredictable and violent treatment whenever his mother was present. Lacking any friends, he sought comfort in a man who struck up a conversation about fishing near his residence, viewing him as a companion.

Neil, who experienced abuse from this man in his early years, later became an adult and found that the only way he could demonstrate his revulsion for what had been inflicted upon him by this individual was to inflict the same suffering onto others. This ultimately resulted in Neil becoming a rapist, convinced that by engaging in these actions, he would be purging the inner demons within himself and transferring them onto his victims.

In his book, James discusses something intriguing – that when questioned about their upbringing, individuals convicted of violent crimes frequently disclose a shocking catalogue of endured abuse.

If he is asked to explain the crimes he committed against strangers, his rage towards his parents will be evident in the specific acts he inflicted upon his victims. He may also re-enact some of the abusive actions that were inflicted upon him (James 2002, pg 127).

In summary, James argues that the care we receive from our parents as infants is vital in shaping our behaviors, while genetic factors have no impact. American psychologist John B Watson (1920) supports this perspective, emphasizing the role of nurture in influencing human behavior through aspects such as acquired behavior, learned behavior, and environment.

Watson, who is well known for his research on behaviorism, developed a concept called Operant Conditioning. In collaboration with Rayner in 1920, Watson conducted a study involving an 11-month-old boy named Albert. The experiment involved placing Albert in a room with only a white rat as company. Initially, Albert showed fondness and even affection towards the rat. However, Watson introduced a loud and unpleasant noise whenever the boy tried to touch the rat. As a consequence, Albert developed a fear response towards any white and furry objects he encountered.

According to Watson et al (1920), humans can acquire certain feelings and fear through their environment, supporting the theory of nurture as a significant influence on human behavior. Albert Bandura, a prominent theorist, conducted a study on aggression in 1961, which led him to conclude that our behaviors are learned from our social environment. Bandura’s research also resulted in the development of his Social Learning Theory, which suggests that we can learn by observing the behavior of role models or significant others.

According to Bandura, the nurture debate holds that aggression in children is primarily acquired through three principles of behavior modeling. Bandura argues that aggressive behaviors are not inherited but rather learned by observing others, whether it be people in our immediate surroundings, media, or our environment. He asserts that individuals who display aggression believe that it can lead to three outcomes: reducing tension, obtaining financial rewards, or gaining praise and building self-esteem.

In the Bobo doll experiment, children observed a video in which a doll named the Bobo doll was consistently struck by a model. Subsequently, these children were brought to another room containing similar dolls as seen in the video. The findings revealed that 80% of the children replicated the actions of the adult model portrayed in the video. As a result, it was deduced that individuals dwelling in areas with high crime rates are more prone to participating in criminal behaviors when compared to those residing in regions with low crime rates. This discovery provides evidence supporting the nurture theory.

Both arguments carry substantial evidence and it is uncertain which one holds a stronger stance in shaping one’s personality. However, it can be inferred that environmental factors, particularly those related to parenting, peer group influence, social interactions, geographical location, and economic status, significantly impact the development of one’s personality. To illustrate, newborns are not inherently inclined towards hatred or racism; rather, these attitudes are taught or acquired based on their surroundings.

While it is unavoidable for children to inherit their parents’ personality traits because they share the same environment, proving that these traits are genetically passed down poses a challenge.


  1. 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.
  2. Carlson N. , Martin G. N. , Buskist W. (2004). Psychology. nd ed. Great Britain: Pearson Education.
  3. Gleitman H. , Fridlund A. J. , Reisberg D. (1999). Psychology. 5th ed. United States of America: W. W. Norton & Company.
  4. Gross R. D. (1992). Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 2nd ed: Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton.
  5. James O. (2002). They F*** You Up: How To Survive Family Life. Great Britain: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  6. Heath et al (1989). Cited in Carlson et al (2004) pg 89. Psychology. 2nd ed. Great Britain: Pearson Education.
  7. Pinker S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature: United Kingdom, Penguin Publishers.
  8. Plomin et al (1990). Cited in Zimbardo P. , McDermott M. , Jansz J. & Metaal N. (1995) pg 445-448.

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