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Nature Vs Nurture Debate

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Nature Vs Nurture Debate

What if a pair of identical twins were separated at birth and raised in different cultures, one in Western and the other in Eastern culture? Researchers could look at cross-cultural differences to assess their impact on the twins. The twin raised in the West could be much more individualistic than their twin raised in the East, who is more family-oriented and collectivist.

The influence of nature in the nature-nurture debate

The nature vs nurture debate in psychology is concerned with the source of the formation of a person's characteristics and behaviour. Are we a result of our nature (genetics)? Or are we shaped by our nurture (environment)? Traditionally, the debate has taken an either-or approach; it is either nature or it is nurture that shapes who we are. We will see how this debate has changed over time.

To consider whether it is nature or nurture, we must consider some important examples and psychological studies that have helped psychologists' understanding. We will consider some of the explanations for the influence of nature in the nature-nurture debate. These explanations include the Theory of Evolution, Nativism and the Universal Grammar Theory.

What is the Theory of Evolution?

Darwin's theory of evolution suggests that traits are passed from generation to generation through natural selection. The theory states that those who best adapt to their environment are able to pass on their genes. This is called heredity. The theory of evolution has strongly supported the influence of nature in the nature-nurture debate, as it suggests that our traits are passed on, and therefore genetically determined.

What is nativism?

Similar to how some factors are entirely due to genetics such as eye and hair color or a particular condition, some nativists have suggested that other characteristics may also be determined by our genes. Our behavioral tendencies, abilities and qualities may already be 'written' by our biology. Nativism is an extreme biological approach. Below is an example of a theory to show how human abilities are innate.

Nativism is an approach to the debate that claims we are the product of our genetics and biological coding.

Chomsky's Universal Grammar theory claimed that children innately possess the ability to understand different language categories, eg nouns or adjectives. He claimed that without these categorization abilities, language would not make sense to children. All children possessed these, regardless of the language (s) they spoke. Supporters of this theory claim that language is too complex of an ability to acquire without built-in 'tools' to help us process it.

The influence of nurture in the nature-nurture debate

We will consider some of the explanations for the influence of nurture in the nature-nurture debate. These explanations are empiricism and behaviour.

What is empiricism?

Empiricists claim that our environment, bringing up, and life experiences have given us our characteristics and behaviour.

Empiricism is an approach to the debate that claims we are the product of our environment.

They claim that at birth our minds are a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate), which are filled with experiences and knowledge as we grow up. Therefore, the explanation as to why we have differing characteristics, personalities and behavioural tendencies is due to our unique environments and upbringing during the early stages of life. Specifically, the way we are brought up (nurture) affects our learning, which governs our psychological characteristics. Below are some examples of studies that show how our environment can affect our behaviour.

What is behaviourism?

Behaviourism focuses on the impact of the environment on behaviour. It is another way in which psychologists believe nurture shapes who we are, as we are trained, or conditioned, to behave in a certain way. If the observable behaviour is within that person's physical capabilities, it is only necessary to have the correct conditioning to train that person to carry out a new task.

Behaviourism is the school of thought that believes observable behaviour, such as tidying up a mess or walking a dog, can be taught to any person regardless of their heredity, personality and thoughts.

Bandura's Bobo doll study (1961) supported Bandura's social learning theory which stated that aggression is learned through our environment and surroundings. The study showed that when young children were shown videos of adults being aggressive towards an inflatable doll and receiving positive reinforcement for doing so, the children imitated this behaviour when given their own inflatable doll. The study saw that the children were motivated to reproduce this behaviour as if they were receiving the reinforcement themselves. This is called vicarious reinforcement.

This study showed that children use observation, imitation and vicarious reinforcement to shape their own behaviour. The study also supports the influence of nurture in the nature-nurture debate.

Nature vs Nurture [+] nature and nurture [+] StudySmarterPsychologists have commonly believed that either nature or nurture is responsible for our behaviors. static.wixstatic.com

How can we study the nature-nurture debate in psychology?

We can study the nature-nurture debate in psychology further by using different types of studies to measure the various impacts of nature and nurture. These are described below.

Adoption studies

Adoption studies can be very useful for explaining the influence of genetics and environment on behaviour or characteristics. This is because the adoptive parents and child have biological differences, which allows researchers to determine whether the child's biology or environment is responsible for the child's traits.

For example, if an adopted child is very musically gifted but their adoptive parents are not, the child likely has a biological disposition for music inherited from their biological parents. Similarly, if an adopted child of athletically inclined parents shows a great talent for football, environmental factors are likely at play.

Nature vs Nurture [+] adoption [+] StudySmarterAdopted children can be very useful to study the impact of genetics and environment on behavior. StudySmarter Originals, Shikha Shah

Twin studies

Twin studies have been used to find out to what extent genes can influence behaviour. Identical twins have exactly the same genes so it is useful to study them to find out whether nature or nurture has a larger impact.

For example, if monozygotic (MZ), or identical twins separated at birth were raised in completely different environments, any similarities between their behaviours could be down to their shared genetics and any differences could be accounted for by environmental factors. If one twin has higher levels of intelligence than the other, the environment (nurture) likely has a greater impact than the shared genes. However, if both twins possess the same levels of intelligence, it is likely down to their genes (nature).

Dizygotic (DZ), or non-identical twins, on the other hand, share half of their genes and are similar to regular siblings. However, they are still useful to study as they can indicate to what extent their shared genetics play a role.

For example, for non-identical twins in the same environment, any similarities could be explained by environmental factors and any differences could be down to genetics. If the non-identical twins are shown the same video and one of them laughs whilst the other cries, the difference is likely to be genetic as they shared the same environment.

Nature vs Nurture [+] twin studies [+] StudySmarterIdentical twins in the same environment but with different preferences could determine genetic influences on behavior. frontiersin.org

Cross-cultural studies

Cross-cultural studies can be used to draw more general conclusions about nature and nurture. Conducting cross-cultural studies can help us understand the influence of nurture as the environments across different cultures can vary greatly. Remember the twin study example at the beginning of this explanation? Such differences can be attributed to cultural differences and explain what is innate and what is learned.

What is the interactionist approach in the nature-nurture debate?

The interactionist approach in the nature-nurture debate states that nature and nurture work together rather than compete. It is a more modern approach to the debate and psychologists continue to study how they interact with each other. The approach also argues that there are different 'levels' of explanation that must be considered when examining a particular behaviour.

Interactionists believe that one behavior may be more genetically influenced than another. However, both behaviors can be explained by genetics to an extent. The difficulty is understanding what those 'levels' are.

Interactionist approach and diathesis-stress model

The diathesis-stress model is an example of the interactionist approach. The model suggests that simply a genetic predisposition ('diathesis') is not enough; an external trigger ('stress' or 'stressor') is required to develop the condition. The model was used to study schizophrenia (SZ).

It was suggested that a person may possess a vulnerability to develop SZ; However, if there is no external environment that triggers the vulnerability, the person may not develop the condition. In adoptive families, children whose biological families had SZ were more likely to develop it than in children whose biological families did not have a history of SZ. This does support the influence of genetics. However, research has shown that if adopted children are placed in a secure environment with strong relationships and empathy, they have a lower chance of developing SZ. This also supports the influence of the environment.

Interactionist approach in the study of brain structure

A study was conducted to show differences in brain structure between London taxi drivers and non-taxi drivers. Researchers found that a particular region of the brain was larger in London taxi drivers than an 'average' non-taxi driver's brain. It was concluded that the nature of the work done by taxi drivers directly impacted biology; namely, that nurture can affect nature. This is also an example that shows how an interactionist approach between nature and nurture can further our understanding of our characteristics and behaviour.

Nature Vs Nurture Debate - Key takeaways

  • The nature-nurture debate in psychology tries to understand whether it is our genetics or environment that is responsible for who we are.
  • Nativism claims our biology determines our behavioural tendencies and abilities whilst empiricism claims that we are born with a 'blank slate' and gradually learn information as we grow up.
  • Adoption studies, twin studies and cross-cultural studies can help us understand further whether nature or nurture is responsible for who we are.
  • The interactionist approach aims to explain how nature and nurture work together rather than how they compete.
  • The diathesis-stress model is an example of how the interactionist approach explains behaviour. This model has been used to explain schizophrenia.

Frequently Asked Questions about Nature Vs Nurture Debate

The nature-nurture debate aims to explain whether genetics (nature) or the environment (nurture) is responsible for who we are and how we act.

The nature-nurture debate has evolved over time to consider the approach that nature and nurture do not compete but instead work together to shape behavior. This approach is called the interactionist approach.

The nature-nurture debate proposes that we are shaped either by our genetic factors (nature) or environmental factors (nurture).

Final Nature Vs Nurture Debate Quiz

Question

What is the nature-nurture debate in psychology?

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Answer

The nature-nurture debate in psychology concerns whether our characteristics, behavior and personality are due to our genetics (nature) or our environment (nurture). It is concerned with which of these two 'factors' influences our behavior more. This may help us understand why humans behave in certain ways.

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Question

Which nativist theory suggests that children are born with the ability to understand different language categories?


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Answer

Chomsky's Universal Grammar Theory (1965). It proposes that all humans are innately capable of learning a language. The human mind is 'prewired' for language learning.

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How does empiricism contrast with nativism?


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Answer

Empiricism claims that our minds are a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate) at birth and that they are gradually filled with knowledge and experiences. These shape our behavior. On the other hand, nativism claims that our biology is 'written' and that we are born with behavioral tendencies and abilities.

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Question

Which side of the nature-nurture debate did the findings of Bandura's Bobo doll study support?


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Answer

Bandura's Bobo doll study supported the nurture side of the debate, as it showed that behavior, in particular aggression, was learned by observation and imitation.

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Question

Which type of study would be appropriate to see whether memory is influenced by genetics or the environment?


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Answer

An adoption study or twin study would be appropriate to determine whether memory is influenced by genetics or the environment, as comparisons could be made through different memory abilities.

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Question

During a twin study involving identical twins in the same environment, if one twin is found to be more aggressive than the other, what does this suggest with regard to the nature-nurture debate?


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Answer

If one identical twin is more aggressive than the other despite being in the same environment, it is likely that the difference is due to environmental factors (nurture). As identical twins have the same genes, any differences are likely to be non-genetic.

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Question

What is the name of the approach that suggests nature and nurture work together?


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Answer

The name of the approach that suggests nature and nurture work together is the interactionist approach.

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Question

Name an interactionist model. Explain which condition it was used to study? 


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Answer

The diathesis-stress model. It was used to study schizophrenia.

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Question

What is the interactionist approach in psychology? 

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Answer

The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders and behaviour as a product of both biological and environmental influences. 

It recognises that multiple factors shape who we become including our biology (genes) and environment (upbringing, culture). 

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Question

Outline an example of gene-environment interaction

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Answer

Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder that affects how people process certain proteins. If untreated phenylketonuria leads to intellectual disability. However, by diagnosing children early and putting them on an appropriate diet the illness can be prevented. Despite the genetic vulnerability, an appropriate diet can prevent the expression of the genes that cause this illness. 

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Question

Which one is an example of the interactionist approach in psychology?

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Answer

The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia

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Question

Outline the Meehl's model of schizophrenia

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Answer

In 1962 Meehl proposed a model, which explained schizophrenia as a result of the combination of having the schizophrenia gene (schizogene) and exposure to chronic stress in childhood (eg. being raised by a controlling and distant mother). 

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Question

Is schizophrenia a genetic disease?

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Answer

Adoption studies suggest that schizophrenia is inherited (eg. Heston, 1966). Ripke 2014 found that schizophrenia is a polygenic disease, meaning it is influenced by variations of many genes. Ripke found 128 genes associated with the disease.  

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Question

Are all people with some genetic vulnerabilities associated with schizophrenia at the same risk of developing the disorder?

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Answer

Not all people that are vulnerable have all the gene variations associated with schizophrenia. The more genetic variations characteristic of the disorder a person has the more vulnerable they are to the disease, meaning they need fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop.

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What factors other than genes can create vulnerability for schizophrenia?

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Answer

Adverse Childhood Experiences can also make people more vulnerable to stressors because they dysregulate people's physiological stress response. 

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What were the findings of Shevlin et al. 2007, which investigated the relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences and psychosis?

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Answer

The higher the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences individuals reported the higher was their likelihood of experiencing psychosis.

  • People who reported one Adverse Childhood Experience were 2.5 times more likely to experience psychosis, while people who reported 5 types of Adverse Childhood Experiences were even 53 times more likely to experience psychosis.

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Question

How can cannabis use affect people vulnerable to developing schizophrenia?

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Answer

Cannabis use can trigger a psychotic episode. 

 Wainberg et al. 2021 found that participants with high polygenic vulnerability had a stronger association between cannabis use and psychosis.

  • Highly vulnerablele participants who used cannabis were 67% more likely to experience psychosis.
  • Participants with low vulnerability participants that used cannabis were 7% more likely to experience psychosis.

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What is an advantage of the interactionist approach?

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Answer

The interactionist approach has greater explanatory power than theories based only on nature or nurture influences. Combining various influences allows us to better predict individuals' traits. 

Moreover, it has important implications for treatment of psychiatric disorders.

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Question

What are the implications of the diathesis-stress model on clinical practice?

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Answer

By identifying individuals at risk of schizophrenia we can inform them about potential triggers like cannabis use and minimise their future risk of psychosis. 

The interactionist approach also stresses the role of trauma and therefore the importance of incorporating therapy into treatment in addition to medication.   

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Is interactionist treatment of schizophrenia more effective?

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Answer

Yes, Tarrier et al. 2004 found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and counselling combined with medication resulted in a greater reduction of psychotic symptoms 18 months after treatment than medication alone. 

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Question

What is the nature-nurture debate in psychology?

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Answer

The nature-nurture debate concerns the origins of psychological traits. The nature approach argues that biological factors determine psychological traits, while the nurture approach points to the environmental factors that shape who we are. 

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What is behavioural genetics?

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Answer

Behavioural genetics is the science of nature vs nurture influences. It investigates how much genes and the environment account for the variation in psychological traits.

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Question

What do family studies investigate?

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Answer

Family studies investigate what is the correlation of the trait between individuals with different degrees of relatedness. 

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What is the main method of studying environmental vs biological influences?

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Answer

Family studies

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What are the types of family studies?

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Answer

Family studies include twin studies and adoption studies.

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What do adoption studies investigate?

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Answer

Adoption Studies investigate if adopted children, raised by the adopted family tend to share traits more with their biological family or the family that raised them. 


Therefore, adoption studies examine the impact of the environment on psychological characteristics. 

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Question

What does it mean if the behaviour of adopted children correlates more with their adopted family than their biological family?

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Answer

It means the behaviour developed likely due to the influences of nurture rather than nature.

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What does it mean if the behaviour in adopted children correlates more with the behaviour of their biological relatives but not adopted relatives?

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Answer

It means the behaviour is likely determined by the influence of nature rather than nurture.

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What are the limitations of adoption studies?

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  • Adoptions are relatively rare and hard to study.
  • Involving the biological family in adoption studies can be unethical if they don't wish to reunite.
  • Adoption studies assume that adoptees are placed in a different environment, while children are often adopted into families that resemble their own.
  • Adoption studies rely on correlational data, causality can't be inferred.

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What do twin studies investigate?

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Twin studies examine similarities between monozygotic and dizygotic twins.

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What proportion of their DNA do Monozygotic and Dizygotic twins share?

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Monozygotic and dizygotic twins both share 50% of their DNA.

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If a certain behaviour is on average more commonly shared between MZ twins but less likely to be shared by DZ twins, what does it tell us about the heritability of the behaviour?


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Answer

It suggests that the behaviour is more heritable.

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What are the limitations of twin studies?

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  • Twins are not representative of the non-twin population, growing up a twin is unusual and can attract different experiences and expectations than compared to most people.
  • Twin studies assume MZ twins are more similar than DZ twins only because they share more genetic material. Factors other than genetics can explain greater similarities between MZ twins.  
  • Twin studies assume both MZ and DZ twins share 100% of their "nurture" so their environment growing up. Yet, siblings within the same family may have quite different experiences growing up for example due to peer influences.
  • Twin studies rely on correlational data, causality can't be inferred.

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How do twin studies assess heritability?

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Twin studies use concordance rates to assess heritability. 

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Question

What were the findings of the Minnesota twin study?

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Answer

Overall twins reared apart were just as similar in terms of personality, attitudes occupational and leisure interests as twins reared together indicating a high degree of heritability of those traits.


 It was concluded that genes strongly impact behaviour and account for 70% of the variance in intelligence.

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What are the limitations of the Minnesota Twin Study?

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Answer

The Minnesota twin study was criticised for not using a control group, adopting false assumptions about the sample as well as using invalid methods of calculating heritability.

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