Nature Vs. Nurture: do Genes Influence our Morals?

Abstract

Nature versus Nurture is one of the oldest debates on whether genetics or environmental factors contribute to behavior. Some researchers believe that a person’s behavior is shaped by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. This paper examines the nature versus nurture debate but takes the viewpoint that nurture has more of an influence on behavior. Research studies discussing nurturing groups and the Family Nurture Intervention are used as supports to show how important nurturing is to the development of a child. These interventions enable children the ability to develop appropriate social interactions with others and do better in a classroom setting.

As individuals go through each stage of development many behaviors may occur. These behaviors are typically influenced by a variation of factors. More specifically these factors can influence intelligence and the personality. In fact, intelligence has been the most researched area by developmentalists in regards to the influence of nature or nurture on its development (Feldman, 2017). These factors have been debated on for years in regards to genetics or a result of a person’s environment as the cause. Perhaps, behavior may be influenced by a combination of both. This identifies the controversial “nature versus nurture” debate that is still being debated today. This review will examine each position related to the debate. Several research studies have looked at nature versus nurture through the lens of biology to help discuss the differences. The goal will be to focus more on research that identifies that the nurture of an individual influences their stages of life more than genetics. The nurturing of a person is believed to have positive implications for a more fulfilled adulthood. Research will be presented on specifically how nature and nurture play a role in human development in reference to the theories developed especially regarding child development. Many professionals continue to debate which one is more influencing (Sravanti, 2017). We begin by discussing the history of the nature versus nurture debate.

History of Nature vs Nurture

The nature versus nurture concept was seen as opposites by Francis Galton in the late 19th century (Plonka, 2016). The term, nature-nurture, came from Galton’s publication entitled, English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture. This publication took the stance that intelligence and character traits are influenced by hereditary factors (Rettew, 2017). Nature has been described as hereditary factors (Plonka, 2016) that are considered essential qualities of a person or their character (Aldrich, 2014). Nurture is described as environmental influences (Plonka, 2016) that aid in the process of training and bringing up (Aldrich, 2014). Nature and nurture can now be seen as both opposites and factors that complement each other (Plonka, 2016). Galton felt that nature over nurture influenced human development. He coined the term “eugenics”, which is defined as “the science of improving the (esp. human) population by controlled breeding for desirable inherited characteristics” (Aldrich, 2014). Eugenics also means “being of good birth” and “noble in heredity” (Plonka, 2016). Even though Galton saw them as opposites, some researchers did not.

There are several viewpoints of the nature versus nurture debate from genetic determinism to the “blank state”. Blank state refers to the concept by John Locke that connects the human behavioral traits with environmental factors. However, many biologists now agree and accept that human traits are influenced by both hereditary and environmental factors and view nature and nurture related to human traits as outdated and will now explore the debate from a biological standpoint (Plonka, 2016). This nature versus nurture debate has evolved to get to the position where they are seen as both being influential. According to functional psychology by James’, some human instincts are primarily dependent on the concept of nature and others tend to rely on both nature and nurture. The debate actually is concerned about if hereditary traits are actually influenced by environmental factors and if so; how (Lindahl & Linder, 2015). These environmental factors are referred to as the exposome. The exposome is “the cumulative measure of exposures, including diet, lifestyle, pollutants, and others across the lifespan” (Dennis & Jones, 2016). There is little research on nature and nurture from an educational standpoint, but the field of biology has examined this relationship. Human cultural activities and nature are considered pertinent to science. The human cultural activities are seen as nurture in this perspective with science. Nature is viewed as being fine while nurture is seen as a problem. This helps describe why nature and nurture are seen as two separate parallels, but with past and ongoing research they should be seen as complimentary (Lindahl & Linder, 2015).

Discussion

What makes a person the way they are? Is it the result of genetics (nature) or the environment (nurture)? According to developmentalists using the behavioral perspective, development is the result of behavior that is observed and associated with outside stimuli in the environment. Those following the behavioral perspective, can predict what a person’s behavior will be based on which is the stimuli exposed to. From that standpoint, the behavioral perspective view nurture as more influential than nature to development. These theorists do not support the approach that human development involves passing through stages, instead people are who they are because of the environmental stimuli they are exposed to (Feldman, 2017). The behavioral perspective helps support that nurture influences development, but the bioecological approach to development also does too. The bioecological approach to development states that there are five levels of the environment that influences an individual at the same time. Developed by psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, the five levels of the bioecological approach are the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and the chronosystem (Feldman, 2017).

The microsystem is the environment that children are exposed to on a daily basis. Caregivers, friends, teachers, and homes are examples that are included in this immediate world that they live in. Next is the mesosystem which is considered a link between connections of the microsystem. These links connect children to parents, students to teachers, and friends to friends. Then there is the exosystem, which consists of the community, local government, schools, and churches. These places influence how the mesosystem and the microsystem function. The macrosystem is characterized by the cultural influences on a person, like being a part of the Western culture. Last is the chronosystem which include events that happen in the environment or sociohistorical conditions that happen over the life span. Each system of the bioecological approach is connected to the other and therefore any changes in a part of the system will impact the other systems (Feldman, 2017).

Even though nature and nurture are both seen as being influential in development, many people believe that nurture plays a huge role as compared to genetics. They believe nurture greatly influence the level of lifelong success, health, and well-being (Dennis & Jones, 2016). According to the article, Nurture the Nature, life experiences can affect genes which mean that nature is in a vulnerable state to nurture. For example, children need life experiences that are appropriate to help with exploration, experimentation, and self-direction. When a parent adjusts the way they nurture their children to the nature of that child, the consequences or results will be beneficial for society and the child. So each child has the chance to grow into a responsible adult when the environment they are exposed to is conducive to their development. This is similar to the growth of a sapling into a tree. The tree has a strong trunk that supports it and branches that help with multiple things. The nurturing of the tree allows it to grow regardless of if the environment needs to be dry or moist and damp. The key is adaptation to the needs of the tree (Sravanti, 2017). This similarity of a child’s development and the growth of a tree support the idea that nurture has more of an influence on development.

Several research studies and literature reviews have examined how “nurture” has an effect on someone. One study conducted in the NICU of Morgan University Medical Center used a Family Nurture Intervention (FNI) to counteract any possible negative effects of mothers being separated from their preterm infants. FNI is an intervention that is used to facilitate an emotional connection and a homestatic conditioning routine for mother and the preterm infant. This study provided 6.5 hours on average of calming sessions per week. There were mother-infant sessions each day in which the mother would receive the infant scent cloth and the infant would receive the mother scent cloth. Sessions gradually escalated to the mother providing gentle touch to the infant and eventually skin to skin holding when the infant was stable enough to be held. This study found that the nurture shown to the preterm infants helped improve their neurodevelopmental and socioemotional functions in the toddler stage. These positive outcomes show that FNI may be able to protect children from some developmental delays and/or disorders as compared to standard care (Welch, Firestein, Austin, Hane, Stark, & et.al., 2015). The nurture of a child throughout their life span does not have to be the result of a person like a caregiver or parent.

The paper, Social and Emotional Development in Nurture groups: The Narrative Structure of Learning through Companionship describes a case study regarding nurture groups. Nurture groups are an intervention used to help children with social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties (SEBD). These groups are located in some mainstream schools to help nurture children who have difficulties as a result of learning and exposure to either fractured or chaotic families. The nurture groups will assist with the development of positive relationships between the child, staff, and parents. These children are able to gain trust and confidence as a result of the interactions received. This longitudinal study yielded findings that children can learn to interact with others in a positive way that will benefit and promote classroom learning success (Adie & Delafield-Butt, 2016).

Studies have also yielded that a person’s health is greatly influenced by the environment as opposed to nature or heredity alone. Christopher Wild introduced the concept of the exposome. He advised scientists that they should examine how environmental factors contribute to disease by studying how lifetime exposures relate to a person’s health outcomes. He used Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as an example of how a mother’s actions affect the health of a child (Dennis & Jones).

Conclusion

It has been learned and stated in several research articles that behavior should not be viewed as the result of genetic or hereditary factors as opposed to environmental factors. Instead behavior is a result of a combination of both nature and nurture. However, the main goal is to find out how much of each factor is a contributor (Feldman, 2017). Research has shown that they both carry a level of influence. Some of the issues related to research with this topic are a person’s viewpoint on what nature and nurture are and how they are related. There were also a very limited number of directly related articles and studies related to the nature versus nurture debate. Those articles and research that were located was very short in length and did not describe the information in a understandable way. Future research regarding this topic should be more educationally based as the article titled, What’s Natural about Nature? deceptive concepts in socio-scientific decision making, stated that there is little educational research that has been conducted on the debate (Lindahl & Linder, 2015). Furthermore, because of the complexity of the nature versus nurture concept, diversity also must be considered when research is conducted.

Nature versus Nurture will always create a dilemma for the developmentalists who are studying human development. However, other factors should be considered as having a role in human development. Developmentalists should look at the role that cultural influences play. The idea of individualism and collectivism are areas that are included in cultural influences that are considered. Racial, socioeconomic, ethnic and gender differences should also be studied to gain an understanding of how people grow and change throughout development. The only problem developmentalists may encounter will be finding the appropriate way to classify race and/or ethnic groups. The race of a person is biological while ethnic groups describe someone’s cultural background, nationality, language, and religion. As research on nature and nurture move forward, the complexity of human diversity has to be included on any inferences applied to human development (Feldman, 2017).

References

  1. Adie, J. & Delafield-Butt, J.T. (2016). Social and emotional development in nurture groups: The narrative structure of learning through companionship. The Psychology of Education Review, 40(2), 3-9.
  2. Aldrich, R. (2014). Nature , nurture and neuroscience: Some future directions for historians of education. Paedagogica Historica, 50(6), 852-860. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00309230.2014.948011
  3. Dennis, K.K. & Jones, D.P. (2016). The exposome: A new frontier for education. The American Biology Teacher, 78(7), 542-548. doi: 10.1525/abt.2016.78.7.542
  4. Feldman, R. (2017). Development Across the Life Span. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
  5. Lindahl, M.G. & Linder, C. (2015). What’s natural about nature? deceptive concepts in socio-scientific decision-making. European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 3(3), 250-264.
  6. Plonka, B. (2016). Nature or nurture-Will epigenomics solve the dilemma. Studia Humana, 5(2), 13-36. doi: 10.1515/sh-2016-0007
  7. Rettew, D. (2017, October 6). Nature versus nurture: Where we are in 2017. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/abcs-child-psychiatry/201710/nature-versus-nurture-where-we-are-in-2017
  8. Sravanti, L. (2017). Nurture the nature. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 59, 385. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_341_17
  9. Welch, M.G., Firestein, M.R., Austin, J., Hane, A.A., Stark, R.I. & et.al. (2015). Family nurture intervention in the neonatal intensive care unit improves social-relatedness, attention, and neurodevelopment of preterm infants at 18 months in a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 56(11), 1202-1211. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12405
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