Nature vs nurture: Debate Essay

The debate over what determines who we are, whether it is Nature (heredity) or Nurture (our surroundings) is taking a new shape. Is nature or nurture responsible for our actions? Have we remained creatures of nature? Can we resist natural influences with the power of our critical thinking? During the past decades, psychologists have created different theories to make clear the characteristics of human-beings. Usually, these theories were one directional in the nature / nurture question. In fact, the more we comprehend about development and behaviour, the more apparent it becomes that nature and nurture are parallel influences rather than determinants.

Animal behaviours are either innate or learned. Much is random and therefore isn’t really “behavior”: a flagellating protozoa isn’t “looking for” food. When social scientists explain human behaviour they imply purposeful and consequential activities. It is understood that humans are aware of their own acts and those of others. In other words, human behaviours are acquired rather than natural. Instincts, which are activities that are made without learning, altered as adaptations to exact circumstances. But success in adaptation comes at a cost: instincts make organisms “puppets” of their surroundings. Anticipating a rain a frog croaks, just as the rooster crows with the beginning of dawn. Neither the frog nor the rooster had any choice in the matter; their behaviours were simply determined by the environment. Humans have the smallest number of instincts; as an alternative, we have contradictory genetic abilities and capacities to react our environment. For us, consequently, surroundings remain a strong determinant of behaviours.

Social scientists are ever more realizing the discourse of the interactions that take place between nature and nurture. The existence of genes does not by itself make sure that a particular feature will be obvious. Genes need the proper upbringing for inborn propensities to be entirely expressed. These “proper surroundings” contain not only natural environment but also of individuals’ common and symbolic milieus.

According to Richard Dawkins, the final purpose of the game of life is the immortality of one’s information. This information is of two types: the genetic, the programming of one’s DNA, and the memetic, the elements of intellectual information individuals pass on in their society. “We are survival machines,” he writes in The Selfish Gene, “robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” And “just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”(Dawkins, 1976, p.147)

Support of probable genetic factors determining the direction of individuals’ lifelong interests and behaviours increases. For instance, Alexander Graham Bell, who unintentionally invented the telephone whilst working on ways to help the hearing impaired, came from a family that was involved in working with problems of speech and sound. Both his mother and his wife were hard of hearing. His paternal grandfather wrote a book on phonetics and created a treatment for those who are loosing hearing, which was supported by his father and uncle.

It is worth noting the gloomy history of efforts to connect cultural differences and social deviance to genetic “defects.” In the early physiognomic literature on deviance, for example, Cesare Lombroso (Deam, 1989) wrote in the 1870s how deviants had extremely long legs in comparison with rest of their bodies, weird head shapes, absence of a appropriate chin, ingrown ear flaps or large ears. They were, he states, throwbacks to earlier phases of human development. In early 1900th was published The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit, an evil work by David Starr Jordon, the first President of Stanford University. Certainly, the American Eugenics Movement was to cause the Nazi’s “racial purity” political movement, which was the cause of the Holocaust. For the duration of the Nixon presidency, Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker suggested to the Health, Education and Welfare Department that all American children be psychologically tested after reaching six years old with ink spots to identify criminal predispositions (Deam, 1989; Gelman, 1992) . The main part of these “future delinquents” would be sent off to appropriate places where they would learn more conventional behaviour models.

Culture is a set of ideas about the environment and the world, and how people should act in it that is shared–and shared unfairly–by members of a neighbourhood. It contains the logic-meaningful area of social life: the cognitive-knowing, the normative-acting, and the expressive-feeling extents of life. On the one hand, culture is a structure of canned recipes–cognitive and behavioural sets or algorithms of habits, –for socializing with others, allowing individuals to perform their social roles without having to make intended decisions. Through the times of significant cultural transformation these recipes don’t work any longer, causing the appearance of subcultures whose recipes do.

Identifying nature vs. nurture in terms of determinism vs. free will is most likely mistaken when one believes the discourse to which enculturation patterns minds, selves and behaviour. Current facts specify that culture really shapes the hard wiring of the human primate, a human being mainly born bereft of instinct and known for its great plasticity.

Nowadays media concentrates mostly on a number of recent efforts by researchers to relate homosexual, lesbian and queer behaviour to specific brain structures, hormones or genes. Such biological descriptions may be connected to one another, since brain structures may extend under the control of hormones, which in turn work under commands from the genetic code. The investigation is only beginning, and the early theories that have acquired much media attention have not so far withstood the fundamental test of replication by other researchers. For instance, the research team of L S. Allen and R. A. Gorski suggested that a group of nerve fibres between the hemispheres of the brain, the anterior commissure, was normally larger in 34 homosexual men and in nineteen bisexual men. Even though this fraction of the brain has no known relation to sexual behaviour, some scientists believe in a association with the fact that homosexual men are expected to be left-handed, dyslexic and stutterers — all factors associated with the development of the brain hemispheres.

Recent studies of current hormone levels in homosexuals were unsuccessful to turn up any dissimilarity between heterosexuals and homosexuals. “Prenatal hormonal secretions have been found to influence later sexual postures among rodents, but they do not have the same influence in primates, and they are much more difficult to apply to the complexity and diversity of human sexuality”(Deam, 1992, p.91).

Sigmund Freud notably considered humans to be obviously “polymorphously perverse,” implying either that almost any object can be a cause of erotic fulfillment, or that babies are comparatively indifferent to the object of sexual fulfilment (Allen, 1992). Freud stated that, as the child grows up, the items of erotic fulfillment become more evidently defined and limited (whether this is the consequence of a natural or a social procedure is a issue of debate). Anthropologists have discovered that around the world many people, including people from the same culture, may be directed towards a range of objects. Yet, most scholars guess that in any given society what is known as an proper object of desire is greatly regulated and restricted. Furthermore, some cultural customs (in particular religious) declare that people should have only one group of objects of wish.

According to two controversial concepts, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, when asked to rate themselves on a range from totally heterosexual to utterly homosexual, and when the individuals’ behaviour as well as their individuality are analysed, the majority of people appear to be at least rather bisexual, i.e., most people have some appeal to either sex, though as a rule one sex is preferred. According to Kinsey, only a minority (5-10%) can be considered entirely heterosexual or homosexual. On the other hand, only an even smaller group of people can be considered completely bisexual. This made Kinsey suggest what has from that time become famous as the Kinsey scale . Kinsey claimed that there are not “two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual…. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into pigeonholes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects…” (Kinsey, 1976, p.167)

In addition, it is important to mention the influence of moral environment. Moral ‘atmosphere’ deserves recognition as a powerful factor in the development of individual sexuality. The human ethics is no less real for being rather uncertain. To some people conscience is nothing more than a little voice in the back of the head speaking softly the rules of childhood teaching — the last voice heard, probably, before one comes in the forgetfulness of passion. To others it is the creation of intentional and mature ethical reflection.

One of the most significant help of contemporary neuroscience has been to show that the nature/nurture debate deals with a wrong dichotomy: the statement that biology, on one hand, and lived experience, on the other, influence us in basically different ways. Research has shown that not only do nature and nurture each contribute (in uncertain proportions) to who we are, but also that they speak the same language. Both reach their effects by changing the synaptic organization of the brain. “Synapses are responsible for much of the brain’s activity. The particular patterns of synapses in a person’s brain, and the information that those connections encode, are the keys to who that person is” (Gelman, 1992). This way, ‘synaptic plasticity’ is the process by which experience create proper synapses. ‘Synaptic plasticity’ may occur either in child or in adult, and childhood experiences somehow influence out adult lives.

As one might assume, the nature vs. nurture debate is ongoing, is spite of the fact that scientists have already discovered that both of them are not determinants, but parallel influences. Brain activity, determined by the nature, however is greatly influenced by the whole social ‘ethos’, which is consists of the rules, expectations and moral obligations. Thus, the problems with gender identity might be either inborn or arisen during the life course. For instance, change in gender i9dentity might occur even in adults, who are seen as ‘mature’ personalities as well as in children, who have genetic predisposition. Whereas evolutionary psychology highlights considerable influences of nature, it is possible to say that humans, being the creatures, who are capable of abstractive thinking and logical analysis, are also able to eliminate, at least partially, those crucial influences.


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  • Gelman D.,1992. Born or Bred? Newsweek, 24 February 1992
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    LeVay S., 1991, A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between heterosexual and Homosexual Men, Science #253