Personal Position Paper: Nature or Nurture

1308 words | 5 page(s)


In popular discussions about the influence of nature and nurture on human development, opposing terms are used. It is either nature vs. nurture, acquired vs. innate, genes vs. environment, et cetera. They seem to be used as though they all embodied a clear distinction. A related family of different pairs is used to define the differences between those who qualify a particular trait to nature and those who qualify it to nurture. Describing nature and nurture as influencers in human development as distinct forces denies the fact that human development is rife with intricate complexities. An outstanding feature of the nature vs. nurture phenomenon, the argument about the function of genes and the environment in human nature is the rate at which the conclusion arrives that the answer is not exclusively nature or nurture but that both play a significant role in various capacities depending on level of human developmental maturity and the strength or force of one or the other, but at the same time, the argument does not cease. It is hard to determine why the debate continues to persist, but it is important to appreciate that many questions find answers in the nature versus nurture debate. Some people express concerns on human behavior, psychology and development that can be answered scientifically while others may fail to find answers in science. Hence, such questions are woven together in uncertainty and ambiguity causing the binary argument to continue.

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Influences of nature and nurture on human development
Many theorists portrayed nature and nurture as different and rival influences on human development. Some posited that growth is ultimately attributable to biological elements only. Others suggested that children can turn out whichever way possible depending on the environment in which they develop, meaning the environment ultimately shapes them. Increasingly, developmental psychologists/scientists understand that nature and nurture play an equally important role and that they interact dynamically through complex processes to influence human development.

Nature describes the genetic (inherited) characteristics that influence human development. Some inherited tendencies are manifest in almost the entire human species such as the ability to learn and understand language, walk, and use basic tools. Other genetic inheritances make humans different, for example, skin color, hair color, and temperance. Nurture refers to the environmental factors that influence development. Nurture entails culture, values, socio-economic status, beliefs, and even the natural environment such as climate. Human experiences of their environment determine their worldview, their physical and mental health, and ability to apply themselves and their brain development. Nurture affects human development in many ways: nutrition, stress levels, activity levels, formal experience through schooling and informal experience through play and socialization, and through social relationships. Hence, the impacts of nature and nurture on human development are highly important and neither can be overrated over the other.

The comparative effects of genetics and environment differ for different areas of development (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). Some human abilities are largely influenced by genetically determined systems in the brain, for example, the ability to identify sounds of speech which develop in the absence of teaching and will take place in a wide range of environments (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). The environment may have a greater influence on human development in cases where environmental conditions are severe rather than temperate. When a child gains experiences that are characteristic of their age-group and culture, genetics/nature has a stronger influence on their personal characteristics (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). Hence, when youngsters receive healthy and sufficient nutrition, a relatively stable home and community environment, and good education, their genes/nature determine how effectively they learn and gain new skills (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). However, if they are exposed to situations and experiences that are extreme or beyond their age group, for example, war, violent home and community environment, abusive caregivers, extreme deprivation, and so forth, the impact of their surroundings/nurture overrides that of their nature/genes (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2007). For example, if a child is born with excellent intellectual abilities, but they lack proper nutrition and motivation from caregivers when growing up, they will not be able to develop and apply these skills despite their potential. Insufficient nutrition leads to poor brain development and lack of encouragement from adults limits the child’s imagination of numerous opportunities to thrive that exist but to which they are not exposed or cannot access.

Biological maturation including brain development depends on an individual gaining experiences on a large scale; numerous subjects, ability to cultivate curiosity, wide travel, and so forth (Rutter, 2002).There is no human characteristic that can be wholly attributed to genetics/nature or entirely to environment/nurture (Mullen, 2006). Speaking fluent Arabic, French, English, Italian, or whichever one of the thousands of languages in the world is mainly environmental, but it requires fundamental genetic structures in the brain for this ability to be sharpened. Behavioral science is the most adept at quantifying different influences of genetic and environmental elements on individual differences in degrees of a trait in a population (Mullen, 2006). It does not make sense to perceive trait as more the effect of nature than nurture or vice versa. The influence of genes and the environment are incommensurable (Garvey, 2005). For example, a pineapple ferments overnight. Could it be because of its chemical composition only? Or the conditions in which it exists such as temperature and air? Neither the chemical composition of the pineapple nor the environment only cause it to ferment, and neither affects the fermentation process more than the other, but they each contribute to the process.

Some of the uncertainty and vagueness in the nature vs. nurture debate is caused by the language used to explain it. For instance, most arguments are about separating the roles of nature from the roles of nurture and attempting to pit their importance against one another (M., S., & M., B., 2010). The reason for these efforts and placing relative traits on the contributions of each is the manner in which ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ is defined. At times, the difference is between what is innate and what is acquired after birth. But nurture has a significant influence on prenatal development as much as nature (M., S., & M., B., 2010). In the nature and nurture conundrum, it is important to first gain the basics of what an environment is and what it entails, whether it applies to factors beyond the individual that affect its development, to the surroundings in which an ovum develops or to all that is not the DNA sequence (M., S., & M., B., 2010). The issue of the contribution that genetics/nature and environment/nurture bring to the numerous facets of human development also needs to be dissected.

The popular assumption in the nature/nurture debate is that each can be compared in its contribution to human development. However, it is continually becoming clear that both nature and nurture play significant roles in human development in highly intricate contexts. Humans are on a larger scale born with universal traits such as the ability to discern sounds, hold objects, and walk. These will be achieved in whichever environment that they are placed. But nurture determines how well humans are able to develop and acquire skills depending on how favorable the environment is. The environment has a stronger influence than nature when the elements in it are extreme. When the environment is relatively stable and favorable, nature has a larger impact on human development. Nature and nurture work together to realize various outcomes in human development.

  • Garvey, B. (2005). Nature, Nurture and Why the Pendulum Still Swings. Canadian Journal Of Philosophy, 35(2), 309-330.
  • M., S., & M., B. (2010). Goodbye nature vs nurture debate. New Scientist, 207(2778), 03.
  • McDevitt, T. M., and Ormrod, J. E. (2007). Child development and education pp. 6-8. Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
  • Mullen, J. D. (2006). Nature, Nurture, and Individual Change. Behavior & Philosophy, 341-17.
  • Rutter, M. (2002). Nature, Nurture, and Development: From Evangelism through Science toward Policy and Practice. Child Development, 73(1), 1.

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