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The for and Against Argument with Regards to Innate and Learned Behaviour

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    Q. 1 In your own words, detail the -for and against argument with regards to innate and learned behaviour. Feel free to include your own opinion, but be sure to justify it. Try to include an equal amount of information for the both sides. Use at least 500 words for your answer. For many years psychologists have been researching behaviour patterns from birth. This is where the ‘Nature’ vs ‘Nurture’ debate begins. Nativists believe that humans are born with various skills needed to survive, where as Empircist believe that humans acquire all or almost of all their behavioural traits from “nurture”.

    Some behaviours are innate, unlearned and instinctive. From the moment we are born there are instinctive motions that we do. An example of this would be to swallow if there was food in your mouth, or to cough to push something out of your windpipe. These reactions are known as reflexes and are quick, simple as well as automatic. Other examples would be a baby closing their eyes if they felt a puff of air on their face. It is also instinctive to produce saliva to aid swallowing when you feel food in your mouth. This was never taught to us as babies, we just know to do it. ref1] The reasons for these instinctive behaviours, is protection. To swallow when our mouths have food in it, enables the feeding process as well as keeping it empty. Coughing to empty the windpipe prevents chocking. Blinking protects our eyes. In addition to these basic natural reflexes, newborns also possess certain primitive reflexes. An example of this would be the ‘rooting reflex’. If you gently touch the corner of a newborn/ infants mouth and slowly pull their cheek, they will turn their tongue, mouth and even their entire head towards the stimulated side and attempt to suck your finger.

    Even though sucking and swallowing is an ‘Innate’ behaviour it has been shown to be open to the effects of learning. Cohen (1967) found that babies who were restless and crying for a feed became quicker with practice at recognising the nipple, stopping crying and commencing sucking. [ref1] With Cohens findings in mind, I thought about mine and my twin sisters experiences with breast feeding. We were both encouraged to breast feed and having had daughters only a few months apart we shared the experience for a short period of time.

    My sister struggled, with my niece unable to latch onto her for several weeks. Feeding time soon became a very traumatic experience for both parties, however my daughter and I had a completely different experience. From the first feed we had success, it continued that way for many months. Later my sister learnt that her daughter had had ‘colic’, which is a condition in which an otherwise healthy baby cries or displays symptoms of distress frequently and for extended periods of time, without any discernible cause.

    With this information in mind, it left me wondering whether it in fact took my niece a longer period of time to learn how to breast feed, or if the natural motion was there but her colic condition prevented this from happening. Nurture, historically was referred to as the care given to children by their parents, with a mothers role being of particular importance. This term is now regarded as any environmental factor including external family, their peers, as well as extending influences such as media. BINNS (1965) demonstrated this experimentally.

    He studied babies less than 5 days old and found clear differences in a babies reactions to being suddenly disturbed. [ref1] (Ahrens 1954), stated that from the 2nd to the 7th month of an infant’s life, he will smile at whoever approaches and interacts with him, the infant would even smile at crude, oval shaped cardboard that had black dots for eyes. [ref1] An investigation undertaken by Spitz clearly supported Ahrens statement. He watched a group of babies from 0-20days olds to 6-12 months and how they smile/ responded to strangers.

    He found that 98% of babies aged 2-6 months happily smiled at strangers, but only 3% of babies aged 6-12 months smiled at strangers. [ref1] Watson (as well as other theorist), did not believe that abilities, personalities or behaviour had much to do with inheritance or instinct. Such things were completely determined by learning experience. The mechanism for this is the ‘stimulus- response’. [ref2] Later Skinner applied Watson’s principles to control both animal and human behaviour in programmed learning, as well as behaviour modification.

    An example of this is the ‘rat in a box pushing the lever for a food pellet experiment’. Even though it was not evident at first, the rat quickly learnt the relationship between pushing the lever and receiving food. [ref3] Working as a teaching assistant in my local junior school, means that I work with many children having a variation of behaviours. Some of these children are particularly disruptive within the classroom, as a result they are put on a reward system (very much like the skinner experiment with the rat). The children are set individual daily targets by the classroom teacher.

    The aim of the reward system is to show the children that improved classroom behaviour is rewarding. When targets are met the child would receive their reward. Upon observing these children I noticed that the majority responded well. We often hear phrases such as, ‘it’s in her genes’ or ‘she’s just like her mother’! But it’s easy to mistaken learned behaviour for genetics. Genes determine colour of hair, eyes or perhaps whether a person has freckles, but it is not fare to say a child behaves in certain way because their chose to.

    I conclude basic survival is instinctual, making our earliest of behaviour innate. As newborns we are completely dependent on our parents, (traditionally the mother) for our care and survival. Without a carer providing food, comfort and care, life would be impossible. I agree that as we enter the world, we readily have the knowledge to feed and protect ourselves as long as the support is provided by the caregiver, i. e provide a breast and a baby can feed. I also believe that beyond our first moments of infancy all our abilities are learned. As we grow and develop we absorb our surrounding each and every day.

    Our habits and even the way we think are things that we have been told, taught or observed. Unfortunately having the ability to watch and recall an experience can also have a negative effect on the way a person behaves or feels. Luckily, with further positive education and therapies, such as ‘the talking therapy’, previous negative behaviour or thought processes can be changed. Ref 1-Stonebridge College, Child Psychology reading material.


    2- Child Development A First Course, by Kathy Sylva & Ingrid Lunt. Page 183. Ref 3- Child Development A First Course, by Kathy Sylva & Ingrid Lunt. Page 119.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The for and Against Argument with Regards to Innate and Learned Behaviour. (2017, Jan 29). Retrieved from

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