Nature vs. Nurture

When the name “Charles Darwin” is mentioned, anyone who’s ever taken a science class will know that his evolutionary theory was one of the great breakthroughs of the 19th century. Either that, or they’d say “he’s the evolution guy, right?” Both of these answers are correct, to some extent. Darwin’s theory of evolution flew into the face of society, directly opposing some of the previously believed ideas that dominated the intellectual landscape. One of these ideas included the idea that the world was created and designed by an intelligent god. This idea was widely accepted as factual at the time, but Darwin’s discoveries provided contradictory evidence to that claim. The belief in a god’s design was a highly socialized belief, as people believed whatever their church told them to believe. What Darwin presented were biological facts that could not be ignored. This opposition of ideas started a debate that has raged on ever since, this is the debate of nature versus nurture. That is, do we believe what we believe, or behave how we behave, because of our social environment or is it because of our own biology?

Darwin

In order to attack this dilemma and work towards a solution, the question must be restated. It’s not a definitive “this or that” answer, so it shouldn’t be asked as such. The answer will be a matter of which has more influence, socialization or biology. So, does biology have more influence or does socialization? Let’s lay out the arguments for both sides.

Biology, for the sake of answering this question, refers to what traits, behaviors, and beliefs that an organism has at its birth. Darwin’s theory of natural selection digs deeper to find out how these traits get passed from parents to offspring. He found that the parents who can survive long enough to procreate did so because of specific traits that they had that made them better survivors than their peers. Over time, the strong traits prevail over the weak traits, and the weak traits begin to disappear. Biology has shown that there are traits that get passed down genetically, the best example of these traits are the Galapagos finches’ beak shape. The Galapagos finches developed different beak shapes that depended on what the available food in their area. There was one group of finches that had narrow beaks for picking up seeds and insects, and another group that had shorter, stronger beaks for cracking nuts.

Left, Larger beaks. Right, narrower beaks.

Researchers have found some new ways to show the passing of biological traits, including twin studies and research on the personalities of humans. Personality has been found to have strong biological correlates, and it’s been found that personality traits of the parents can sometimes determine the personality traits of the offspring. For example, there are people with Type A and Type B personalities. Type A personalities are aggressive, outgoing, and stubborn, and Type B personalities are passive, easy-going, and agreeable. If two Type A personalities procreate together, there is a higher likelihood that the resulting offspring will also have a Type A personality. This has been backed up by numerous twin studies. Twin studies are studies that find two identical twins and place the twins in two completely different environments and study their growth. These twins have been found to be very similar in many aspects, such as their personality or the way they stand. Socializing factors have completely been taken out of these studies, so the similarities must be biological. Twin studies are by far the best case for nature in the debate of nature versus nurture, because of this complete lack of social factors.

Perhaps, as an alternative, human behaviors and beliefs are determined by another force. This alternative force is the “nurture” side of the nature vs. nurture debate, the social aspect of human cultures that has influence on our daily lives. In today’s society, people are exposed to thousands of bits of information every day. The world is becoming smaller and smaller with every new connection that people form. Soon, it may very well be impossible to live completely away from societies. Socialization is an inescapable and sustained influence that will affect people for their entire lives.

One great example of socialization is parenting. When two new parents are coming home from the hospital, they have just received a block of clay that they will be able to mold. The child will learn many things from its parents through experiences. Family values are influenced by what culture the family is a part of. For instance, a child born into a traditional Hmong family will have different values than a child born into a Swedish family. Also, parents help influence what gender roles are normal. Parents who paint their daughter’s room pink and buy her dolls are socializing her to be more feminine. Parents who sign their son up for every sport available to them are socializing him to be a manly, sport-playing man. These things are examples of what some parents consider to be gender-appropriate behavior. The research of Albert Bandura illustrated how impactful the example of adults can be on a child. This experiment, called the “Bobo Doll” Experiment, is explained in this video by Bandura himself.

As you can see, the child is imitating almost exactly what the adult was doing. This experiment illustrates Bandura’s social learning theory, which states that children learn behaviors and language as they are taught by parents, schools and the media.

Another interesting example isn’t of socialization, but the lack thereof. Sometimes, parents don’t want to take care of their child, and instead of giving it up for adoption or seeking alternative care, the parents will lock up their child in a room and feed it like an animal in a cage. It’s terrifying, but it does happen. These children have been called “feral children” and aren’t subjected to any sort of everyday influence. Feral children don’t develop language and are typically malnourished. Without the social interactions that all humans get, these children are prime examples of how impactful society can be on humans. This example is very supportive of the theory of socialization. Much, much more information can be found here, at feralchildren.com.

There have been theorists that have believed that either humans are a product of only biology or that humans are a product of society alone. Both of these positions, I believe, are wrong. The examples I’ve given above show that there are strong influences on both sides of the argument, but it’s not as simple as “just nature” or “just nurture.” It seems to me that humans are influenced by society and biology as a combination. Some people may be less influenced by one or the other, but both will have an effect on everyone’s life.

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~ by 19centdarwin on April 12, 2010.

One Response to “Nature vs. Nurture”

  1. This post really helped me understand more about Darwin and his theories. I wish I had had this blog when we were studying Darwin in my philosophy class a few weeks ago!

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