Research writing 310

Nature VS Nurture

Research writing 310

Joi Tucker

Wilmington University

Nature VS Nurture


Nature vs Nurture is one of the oldest arguments known to the Psychology genre. For those who do not know; simply put, the underlying question is, can behaviors be inherited? Initially, upon answering the question without any regard to the actual research and experiments done in this field a conclusion was drawn that Nature outweighs Nurture and that the behaviors of men are innate in that they are inherited genes that have influence over our behaviors. Upon further investigation and deeper insight, it is of my belief that the behaviors of men are based not solely on the behavior of their parents and their genetic makeup but also, by socioeconomic, traditional, educational, religious, and many other external factors. This paper will demonstrate the multiple schools of thought and their perspective on behaviorism, specifically when it comes to the argument of Nature vs Nurture. These perspectives will be used in order to justify the position that was previously stated, that the behaviors of men are influenced not only by their biology but also by their upbringing and multiple external factors.

Nature versus Nurture is one of the oldest debates within Psychology. It is concerned with the extent to which aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited (i.e., genetic) or acquired (i.e., learned) characteristics. Previous to delving into this topic I took the stance that Nature outweighed Nurture and that human behaviors were innate in that they were solely influenced by one’s genetic makeup. After vigorous research on the topic an attempt to take the stance that aspects of behavior are a product of inherited characteristics. Most people no matter what their upbringing and socioeconomical positions are prone to specific types of behaviors due to their genetic makeup. Within this argumentative essay, the attempt to write about Nature vs Nurture taking the perspective that human behaviors are derived from a combination of the two. The plan is to investigate multiple schools of thought in regards to the topic in order to prove the theory which was previously stated; human behaviors are a product of both genetic and environmental influences.

Within the world of biology, it is widely known that physical characteristics as well as one’s vulnerability to certain illnesses are because of one’s genetic makeup. It is of no surprise that one may share the color their mother’s eyes while inheriting their father’s diabetes. If you are a male, you may be prone to balding in your early 30’s just as your father did and women whose mother suffered from Breast Cancer have a higher likelihood of acquiring the same illness. Understanding how genetics works and now knowing how its functioning contributes to physical attributes as well as biological ailments, the question of whether this same functioning applies when it comes to psychological characteristics remains a great debate within Psychology even until this day. In order to answer this question, we must first investigate how genes work and what their functions are.

Genetics is the study of heredity and variations. Heredity and variations are controlled by genes—what they are, what they do, and how they work? Genes inside the nucleus of a cell are strung together in such a way that the sequence carries information: that information determines how living organisms inherit various features (phenotypic traits). This explains why offspring produced by sexual reproduction usually look like each of their parents because they have inherited some of each of their parent’s genes. Genetics tell us which features are inherited and explains how these features pass from generation to generation. However, although genes are inherited, they can also be altered based on environmental changes. This is the bases of evolution, for example, one may inherit their parent’s complexion and due to genes have darker skin; something determined by the production of melanin, but evolution tells us that as the environment changed (migration away from the equator) the complexion of the skin became lighter. How do we apply these processes to psychological characteristics?

Brunner syndrome is a rare genetic disorder associated with a mutation in the MAOA gene. It is characterized by lower than average IQ (typically about 85), problematic impulsive behavior (such as arson, hypersexuality and violence), sleep disorders and mood swings. It was identified in fourteen males from one family in 1993. It has since been discovered in two additional families. In 2009, an Italian Appeal court granted a reduced sentence to a convicted murderer on grounds that he had a version of the MAOA gene.(Feresin E 2009). Although to some this may seem extremely ridiculous there are growing studies showing that low-expression variant of MAOA, known as MAOA-L has been linked in various studies with increased risk of violent and aggressive behavior. This is a clear example of how genes can influence one’s behavior however, it is not stated on what this man’s background and upbringing consisted of. Are all individuals diagnosed with Brunner syndrome prone to violent behavior and hypersexuality? What is it that these people have in common besides the gene itself? Are these 3 families somehow connected in that the males are exhibiting common behaviors and why is this gene not affecting the females?

For us to understand this on a better level, it is important for us to look into multiple schools of thought as it pertains to Psychology, specifically behaviorism. It is also just as important for us to investigate research done by those who side one aspect over the other (Nature vs Nurture). Comparing these ideologies would render us better informed in order to come to a logical explanation and will substantiate the perspective that behavior is a result of both Nature and Nurture’s influences.


Behaviorism became a popular school of thought within psychology during the 1950’s with prominent thinkers such as John B Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B.F. Skinner. While each of these behaviorist had different beliefs and methodologies, their overall belief was one in the same. Behaviorism suggests that all behaviors are determined by environmental factors and that in fact internal forces play absolutely no role in the behaviors of human beings as well as members of the animal kingdom and they tend to focus on observable behaviors.

John B. Watson’s theory on behaviorism is that behaviors were a response to stimuli. He believed that over time people learn to act as a result of behavioral conditioning. For example, a curious child may be exploring the home and exhibit an interest in an electrical socket, when the child begins to play with, or even stick items inside of the socket an adult may yell the word no every time the child gets near the electrical outlet. The child may even find a piece of metal and place it inside of the socket thereby exposing the child to electricity. Either way, the child then learns that maybe he shouldn’t play with the socket die to either being constantly told no or even have his fingers “popped” or by being electrocuted and therefore the child learns a new behavior of being cautious when around electrical sockets and touching them or playing with them is a bad idea.

Ivan Pavlov was a famous Russian Physiologist known for his theory of classical conditioning. In this theory, born by accident during an experiment on the digestion of dogs Pavlov discovered that these dogs could learn new behavior with the influence of stimuli as previously concluded by Watson. In other words an organism is conditioned in such an environment that it produces the conditioned response from the conditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus is neutral prior to the experiment. Through the process of repetition, pairing the neutral stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus leads to the neutral or conditioned stimulus causing the organism to produce the conditioned response. Classical conditioning though referred to as a theory is actually based on sound evidence when Pavlov was able to manage his dogs’ salivation with the sound of a bell. One may observe this phenomenon in their everyday life if they own a cat. While visiting a friend who owns two kittens I observed her being able to call the kittens to wherever she was in the home simply by shaking the box of cat food. It seems as though the kittens learned to associate the sound of the food being shaken in the box with being fed and so whenever they heard the box being shaken no matter where they were in the home, they would come running. (PyscheStudy 2018)

B.F. Skinner was regarded to as the “father of Operant Conditioning”. According to this principle, behavior that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is less likely to be repeated. He introduced the term reinforcement into the field and made the argument that behavior that is reinforced tends to strengthen while behavior that is not reinforced tends to be weakened. He speaks on positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment and how these ideas can in turn influence one’s behaviors. With positive reinforcement behaviors are reinforced or strengthened by reward. An example of this one can use to put this into perspective would be getting ice cream or a gift for getting good grades in school. This in most instances would encourage the child to do well in class in order to reap the reward. With negative reinforcement, this is the idea of removing something an unpleasant reinforcer. To put this into perspective one may think of having a toy taken away for bad behavior. The idea of having one’s favorite toy taken away can influence an individual’s behavior. Lastly the idea of punishment deals with the exact opposite of reinforcement and uses aversive events to manipulate or influence one’s behaviors. The idea of spanking children is an example of punishment however this mechanism has its adverse effects on one’s psyche.

The issue with these three theories; Watson, Pavlov, and Skinner is that they completely dismiss the biological factors that could have an effect on the behaviors in the first place. Also it does not deal with whether these “stimuli” in of itself has an effect on the biology thereby causing the change in behavior. Looking at the same examples lets examine how this can be problematic.

With Watson’s theory using the example of the child being influenced to stay away from the electrical socket lets say that the child was constantly screamed at “No!” by its Mother every time he was near the socket. The child may then react in a surprised manner causing a surge of adrenaline into the child’s system. This may cause anxiety, increased sweating, dizziness and other symptoms that makes the child associate those biological reactions with the socket causing a phobia of electrical sockets and in turn influences the child to stay away from them. There are instances in history and even today where people have irrational fears or phobias with no underlying explanation. One theory as to why this is, is that of genetics. One family member having a bad experience with a specific object, entity, or person and biological changes within their body (i.e. release of adrenaline) causing genetic mutation which is then passed down to a subsequent relative. This idea would prove my perspective that behaviors are determined by not only one’s genetic makeup but environmental influences play just as much as a role with biological changes being internal forces and the reaction of the mother being environmental.

Using Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning also assumes no biological contribution. Using this method on a child who is essentially unintelligent due to biological factors such as a mental retardation will not make them do better in school. For this reason it is important to look at both biological or genetic factors as well as sociological or environmental factors in analyzing one’s behaviors.

Psychoanalytic Psychology

Psychoanalytic Psychology or Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud. It is the study of a set of theories and therapeutic techniques related to the study of the unconscious mind. As this related to Nature vs Nurture, Freud believed that a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood, rather than by inherited traits alone and that human behavior and cognition are largely determined by instinctual drives that are rooted in the unconscious mind. Simply put, Freud took the position of Nurture over Nature although he implemented Nature as a part of his theory. In his theory Freud speaks on 3 aspects of the mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. He believes that within one’s brain, there are different “psychical agencies” that control ourselves. The id is a primal desire that drives us to achieve basic urges; the super-ego, a sort of moral compass; and the ego, a development from the id that analyzes the simultaneous needs of the id, superego, and the stimuli of reality in order to synthesis choices. Freud explains that the id is inherent in everyone, as we inherit it from birth. The super-ego and ego, on the other hand, are influenced by more personal experiences.

This theory is further explained in the more famous Oedipus Complex (for boys) and Electra Complex (for girls). It is a theory by Freud where a complex of emotions aroused in a young child, typically around the age of four, by an unconscious sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex and wish to exclude the parent of the same sex. If you are familiar with the story of Oedipus then you know it is about a boy who fell in love with his mother and killed his father out of jealousy. In this instance the id being the primal instincts expresses itself in the form of murder. The super-ego expresses itself in the child’s experience with his mother, growing from a boy to a man had his experiences with his mother been negative I am sure the outcome would be have been different so this gives credit to the environmental factors within the situation. Either way it is looked at both Nature and Nurture has an affect on the behavior of Oedipus, described as the id and superego by Sigmund Freud.

There are those among us who would adamantly disagree with all of the previously mentioned professionals and argue the point that Nature plays a significant role or even is solely responsible for one’s behavior. In March of 2018, researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Institute Pasteur, Paris Diderot University in Paris, and genetics company 23andMe evaluated empathy based on participants’ Empathy Quotient (EQ) scores. After evaluating both the ability to understand others’ thoughts and feelings as well as reacting or responding to others’ emotions with what is referred to as an appropriate emotion. In this study, using self reporting methods researchers ran a test that was able to show that dissimilarity in genetics correspond with changes in empathy. It was stated that there were 10 million genetic variants used in this study and found out that these distinctions are responsible for about 10% of differences in empathy. “Any human attribute is partly genetic,” says Varun Warrier who is a Psychologist and co-author of the paper. “Even something like empathy that most people might think is not genetic does have genetic correlates.” His words were documented in an article published in (2015 by Psych Central). This study is used by those who take the position of Nature over Nurture in order to justify their stance however it is important to note that although there are correlates between genes and one’s empathy or lack thereof that this does not mean that empathy is beyond one’s control. It simply means that one may have a genetic predisposition to adjusting their empathy levels. Environmental influences play a large role in people’s abilities to be empathetic, so this cannot be totally dismissed when assessing one’s level of empathy and genes should not be the only factor taken into consideration. Yet, when people blame their parents for specific traits, they have good reason for doing so.

Another study done in favor of Nature playing a bigger role in one’s behaviors and psychopathy is that of the “gay gene”. This is a study that has taken place more frequently in the last decade. For the first time, individual genes have been identified that may influence how sexual orientation develops in boys and men, both in the womb and during life. Alan Sanders at North Shore University, Illinois, and his team pinpointed these genes by comparing DNA from 1077 gay and 1231 straight men. This gave them the ability to home in on two genes whose variants seem to be linked to sexual orientation. One of the genes is active in a part of the brain called the diencephalon. In spite of this information there are those who would argue that homosexuality is a behavior and that behaviors cannot be inherited. Also the idea of being born gay stems from the and was influenced by the study of eugenics and introduced by Francis Galton a known eugenicist of the late 19th and early 20th century.(Nature scientific reports) Galton was greatly influenced by his cousin Charles Darwin’s the Origin of Species in 1859. Galton believed that intelligence was inherited and that through breeding science improving the genetics of quality of the human population could be achieved. This topic is highly controversial as it was the precursor Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in an attempt to create a “Master Race” through population control and extermination. It could be said that Galton was bias in his work as he was an advent racist who believed that Black people were genetically inferior to White people. For this reason the whole argument has to be debunked that behaviors such as sexual interactions are inherent. According to Dr Umar Johnson who is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology and Certified School Psychologist, in an interview on VLAD TV published on October 7, 2016 over 95% of the gay and lesbian students that he was assigned to treat were sexually violated by the age of 12. He uses this experience and statistic to justify his belief that no one is born gay, but in fact are influenced by the lifestyle through trauma.

In knowing this information an argument on the issue of sexuality, that one may inherit a gene which can influence the sexuality of the child and that when trauma occurs to a child by way of sexual abuse that this gene, otherwise dormant, is triggered thereby expressing itself in the form of homosexuality.


In conclusion the theory of Nature Vs Nurture is a very old and difficult theory to prove. The characteristics that bond family members range anywhere from eye color to replications in mutant DNA that cause cancer. Certain effects in life are things that human beings have no control over, others are effects that some say are completely within control such as behavior. There are sceptics that will argue that they themselves have never been traumatized as a child and that it was known as long as they can remember that they were attracted to the same sex. Some families have children with both the biological Mother and Father in the home yet out of several children being raised under the same roof there may be someone who is considered the “black sheep”, because they just have not conformed to the house rules handed down by the parents. At the end of it all it can be said that both Nature and Nurture play a very significant part in the molding that happens in the upbringing of children that makes a stage for productive adults for society.


US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health

EMBO Rep. 2010 Sep; 11(9): 667–669 Phillip Hunter

Simply Psychology

McLeod, S. A. (2017, May 03). Nature vs nurture in psychology. Retrieved from

Feresin E (2009) Lighter sentence for murderer with ‘bad genes’. Nature doi:10.1038/news.2009.1050

Olivia Goldhill (2018, March 12) The Ability to Feel Empathy or Not is Based on Your Genes Retrieved from

Nature Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15736-4 Retrieved from

A Second Look at Twin Studies by Lea Winterman April 2004, Vol 35, No. 4 Retrieved from

Identical Twins are Not Genetically Identical by Berit Brogaard D.M. Sci, Ph.D. November 25, 2012 Retrieved from

Francis Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (London, England: Macmillan and Co., 1883), pp. 24–25.

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved July 4, 2011 from [].

PsycheStudy: Classical Conditioning (2018)

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