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The Nature Versus Nurture Debate

The debate over the effects of nature versus those of nurture in shaping the behavior of man has never been won. While it remains clear that physical characteristics arise from inherited traits, there has been no agreement towards the behavior of individuals and whether this behavior is determined by the environmental forces or whether they arise due to genetic predisposition. Whereas some scholars have done an extensive research to prove that genetic composition has a lot to do with our behavior, the proponents of the nurture theory have countered this research with new research to prove that it is the forces of the environment that determines our behavior. With this counteracting research, the debate of nature versus nurture remains one of the hotly contested topics in psychology.

Human behavior has always remained a complex topic. Shaffer and Kipp, (2010), assert that the complexities in understanding human behavior have contributed to the exacerbation of the debate concerning the role of the environment and that of the inherited traits towards an individual’s behavior. The proponents of the nurture theory argue that behavior is a learned attribute that one acquires in the process of interacting with the environmental forces. Borrowing heavily on behavioral theories such as B. F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning, the nurture proponents assert that the system of reward and punishment plays a vital role in shaping individual behavior. They argue that the role of nature in behavior formation is only to act as a triggering factor. Once the behavior is triggered by the biological instincts, it is the forces of the environment that determine the behavior of the individuals.

Biological instincts such as hunger, sexual urges, and the urge to defecate have been used to explain how nurture shapes the behavior of individuals. As noted by Colander, (2004), it is natural for one to feel hungry. The biological instinct of hunger forces one to look for food. However, it is culture that tells people what to eat, how to prepare it and when to eat. Culture, which is a learned trait, teaches one what to eat, how to prepare food and what not to eat. This therefore has resulted to various foods being viewed as staple in some societies while to others; the same food cannot be eaten. A good example is snails which are delicacies among some Chinese cultures but are seen as unclean animals that cannot be eaten by other cultures of the world. This therefore shows that it is the environmental forces that teach us what to eat, how to prepare food and answer other natural instincts.

In an attempt to explain that nurture has a role towards sexual orientation, Nevid, (2011), cites the Etoro of Papua New Guinea well known for their institutionalized homosexuality. According to the Etoro culture, semen is a vital source of life that should not be wasted. Due to this belief, heterosexual intercourse is highly prohibited. Sex can only happen in some specific months of the year, a fact that has been attested by the clustered births among the Etoro ancient community. To further restrict this form of relationship, sex can only take place in the woods where its sound can attract poisonous snakes. Although having sex is a way of sapping men their vital power to live, it is seen, as cited by Nevid, (2011); as a “necessary evil” as there is need to give new life. Young boys who shall have vital roles of giving the necessary impetus for life cannot produce semen of their own and thus have to be inseminated by men. The process of insemination involves homosexual acts such as oral sex. Due to this institutionalized homosexuality, this form of sexual orientation is readily acceptable among the Etoro as opposed to many other societies. This is a good indicator that our society’s norms, mores and values teach us what to take against what to transgress. This therefore shows that behavior is a learned attribute, a fact that forms the basis of the nurture theory of human behavior.

On the contrary, the proponents of the nature debate have greatly differed on the explanation of the nurture proponents. According to Bearer and Lerner, (2004), inherited traits affect the behavior of individuals. Behavior is naturally predisposed depending on one’s genetic inheritance. This therefore leads to some family members being associated with some behavior such as crime or sexual orientation. As noted by Weiten, (2010), sexual orientation is a genetic condition rather than an inherited condition. Biological traits therefore influence how we interact with the environment rather than the argument that biological urges are satisfied in an environmental context as argued by the proponents of the nurture debate.

Bearer and Lerner, (2004), also assert that human behavior is an innate attribute. According to Bearer and Lerner, (2004), this can be attested by studies of identical twins that have been raised separately. Despite the fact that these twins are raised in a different environmental context, they exhibit more similar behavior than unrelated people who have been raised in separate environments. The similarities experienced by identical twins as opposed to the fraternal twins are also signs that human behavior is influenced by innate forces as opposed to environmental forces. This is because the twins are brought up in a same family thus they have a similar environment. Studies of adopted siblings also have shown that despite the fact that some children are adopted at infancy, they end up having totally different characteristics from those of the parents or other siblings that have been raised in a similar environment. Although some differences in behavior have been identified in studies that focuses on twins that are brought up shared and non shared environments, the effects of the non shared environment outweighs those of the shared environment (Bearer & Lerner, 2004). This therefore shows that human behavior is an innate attribute rather than a learned behavior.

From the analysis above, it is evident that the supporters of either side of the debate have tangible reasons to support their arguments. The fact that either side of the debate has research proven results to support its argument has exacerbated the existence of the nature versus nurture debate. The main reason why there is no clear agreement among psychologist concerning this debate is the fact that any research to prove the truth of either side is quickly counteracted by new research that discredit the facts laid down by the opposing side. Despite this divide, one can argue that both nature and nurture have their respective roles in shaping human behavior. Some innate behavior such as intelligence affects the way people interact with the environment hence determining the effects of environment to mode of behavior. The interrelationship of the two forces however is disregarded by those who argue that human behavior is solely influenced by one force. This therefore indicates that the debate of nature versus nurture is far from being over.

Annotated Bibliography

Bearer, E. L. & Lerner, R. M. (2004). Nature and nurture: the complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development. New Jersey, NJ: Routledge.

In this book, Bearer and Lerner, (2004), identifies the nurture versus nurture debate and how each side has been argued to influence human behavior. The two goes on to explain that human behavior is a complex attribute that takes into account different forces for influence. The book dwells on explaining that both inherited traits and the environmental forces have their own influences to human behavior. The two, according to the authors take a complex role to influence how people react differently to different environmental factors thus affecting their personality. The book proved to be of great relevance especially due to its insights on how various inherited forces and environmental forces interact to shape personality traits. The main conclusion according to the book is that the role of both nature and nurture cannot be ignored.

Nevid, J.S. (2011). Essentials of Psychology: Concepts and Applications. New York, NY: Cengage Learning

This book addresses various issues of psychology with the main debates in psychology being covered. The nature versus nurture debate has been covered effectively with various researches to support each side of the debate being identified. The author successfully gives both sides of the debate an undivided attention. The book proved vital in the process of completing the assignment as it provided clear reasons as to why the nature versus nurture debate remains a hotly contested topic in psychology. Its conclusion also seems to hold that the forces of both nature and nurture in behavior formation cannot be ignored as they play important but different roles in determining people’s identity.

Shaffer, D. R. & Kipp, K. (2010). Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

In this book, Shaffer and Kipp, (2010), examines the effects of inherited traits among adolescents and how these traits affect their personality traits. On a similar note, the authors examine the effects of the environment to behavior development in adolescents. They contrast the effects of the two and conclude that the role of the two forces in behavior formation cannot be studied separately. They identify various paradoxes that may be used to help rational thinkers to evaluate the role of nature and that of the environment in behavior formation. They conclude that the views of either sides of the debate hold water and thus human behavior cannot be understood in isolation.

Weiten, W. (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations. 8th Ed. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

In this book, the main focus is main themes of psychology, but Weiten, (2010), strongly comes in support of the idea that both heredity and environment influences behavior of actors. Behavior, according to Weiten, (2010), is determined by multiple causes including culture, genetic composition and interpretation of phenomenon. This therefore proves that neither nature nor nurture can influence behavior in isolation. Weiten, therefore advises that for the debate to be rested, there should be more empirical research approaches on causes of human behavior to ascertain the extent of nature as well as that of nurture as main forces of human behavior. The work was of great relevance due to its deep exploration of various aspects of the nature versus nurture debate.

Colander, H. (2004). Social Science: an Introduction to the Study of Society. 7th Ed, revised New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

In this work, Colander, (2004), examines various forces that shape a society. The role of social forces in determining the behavior of the subjects of a society is examined. The role of mores, norms and values, how they are developed, and how they shape human behavior by determining the dos and the don’ts are examined. The book therefore was of invaluable benefit especially when examining the role of nurture, (socialization and culture) in shaping human behavior as well as its covering of the role of hereditary factors in determining human behavior.

References

Bearer, E. L. & Lerner, R. M. (2004). Nature and nurture: the complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development. New Jersey, NJ: Routledge.

Colander, H. (2004). Social Science: an Introduction to the Study of Society. 7th Ed, revised New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

Nevid ,J.S. (2011). Essentials of Psychology: Concepts and Applications. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Shaffer, D. R. & Kipp ,K. (2010). Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Weiten, W. (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations. 8th Ed. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.