Nature, Nurture, and Human Behavior

Nature, Nurture, and Human Behavior

By Rehman Asif

The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical whether human
culture, behavior, and personality are caused primarily by nature or nurture. Nature is often
defined in this debate as genetic or hormone-based behaviors, traits, and dispositions, while
nurture is most commonly defined as environment, culture, and experience. Nature is what we
think of as pre-wiring and is influenced by genetic inheritance and other biological factors while
nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception i.e. the product of
exposure, experience, and learning on an individual. The nature-nurture debate is concerned
with the relative contribution that both influence human behavior.
The Nature vs. Nurture meaning has derived from various meanings throughout psychology’s
history and is the constant theory to answer the question “How do humans become the way
they are?” The Nature vs. Nurture definition is how a person becomes who they are either
through two different world views:

  1. Nature – people become who they are through their genetics
  2. Nurture – people become who they are through their environment
    The nature vs. nurture theme has been around for a long time, even before the phrase became
    popular in common usage. The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest issues in
    psychology. The debate centers on the relative contributions of genetic inheritance and
    environmental factors to human development. Some philosophers such as Plato and Descartes
    suggested that certain things are inborn, or that they occur naturally regardless of environmental
    influences. Nativists take the position that all or most of our behaviors and characteristics are
    the result of inheritance. Advocates of this point of view believe that humans are nothing but the
    result of evolution. Genetic traits handed down from parents influence the individual differences
    that make each person unique.
    At the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists. Their basic assumption is that at
    birth the human mind is a blank slate and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience
    and learning (e.g. behaviorism). Theorists such as Watson believed that people could be trained
    to do and become anything, regardless of their genetic background. For example, when an
    infant forms an attachment it is responding to the love and attention it has received, language
    comes from imitating the speech of others, and cognitive development depends on the degree
    of stimulation in the environment and, more broadly, on the civilization within which the child is
    It is widely accepted now that heredity and the environment do not act independently. To
    summarize, the debate concerned with the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a
    product of either nature (inherited i.e. genetic), nurture (acquired i.e. learned), or their interaction
    is endless. Despite the philosophical conflict between nativists who adopt an extreme hereditary

position i.e. attributing everything to biological factors (nature) and environmentalists who
believe that the way we are brought up (nurture) governs the psychological aspects of our
childhood development through learning, it is hard today to accept either of these extreme
positions. There are simply too many “facts” on both sides of the argument which are
inconsistent with an “all or none” view. So instead of asking whether the child’s development is
down to nature or nurture, the question has been reformulated to “How much?” i.e. because
both heredity and environment influence the person we become, which is the more important?
This is the individualized question that needs to be answered. Last but by no means least,
sorting out what is the cause and what is the effect is no mere academic matter. If we are trying
to help people’s lives, it is essential to get it right. It can be recognized that neither nature nor
nurture is stronger than the other. Instead, both factors play a critical role in who we are and
who we become. Not only that but nature and nurture interact with each other in important ways
throughout our lifespan.
The manner in which people behave is caused or determined by both nurture and nature.
However, the involvement of each of them varies depending on the kind of trait in question.
Though it is not possible to give an exact estimation of their involvement, it can be concluded
that genes only determine one’s behavior up to a certain age where the environment in which a
human is brought up takes over.

Rehman Asif

Director, Punjab Library Foundation, Archives & Libraries Wing, Services & General Administration Department, Government of the Punjab.

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