Methods of Critical Thinking
December 11, 2010
Nature vs. Nurture
One of the most enduring debates in the field of psychology is the controversial idea of nature vs. nurture. Throughout the endless history of the debate, no clear conclusion has been met, only hypotheses have been formed. At the center of the debate, human behaviors, ideas, and feelings are being determined, whether they are learned or inherited. Determining physical traits, such as eye color or hair color, are simple because they are hereditary traits. The idea of having a certain personality, intelligence, or ability is under discussion because scientists cannot determine if these traits are learned, or predetermined by genes. The nature side of the debate argues that human behaviors are formed based on genetics. This means an individual’s environment plays no role in determining physiological and intellectual ability. Conversely, the nurture side of the debate argues that a person’s environment plays a large role in determining physiological and intellectual ability. Considering the large effect an individual’s surroundings and environment has on that individual’s life, this side of the debate should be taken seriously. Both sides of the controversy have been explored thoroughly among scientists, and overwhelming evidence has been found in favor of both hypotheses. In this notorious disagreement, the most compelling argument suggests that an individual develops his or her behaviors, values, intelligence, and personality based on the environment and surroundings he or she lives and grows up in. This paper will summarize the ideas of behaviorism, identical twin studies, homosexuality, and the development of disease as explored. John B. Watson, a psychologist and strong proponent of environmental learning, once said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own specific world to bring them up in, and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chef and yes, even beggar and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors" (Powell, “Nature vs. Nurture). This famous quotation is often referred to when considering behaviorism. Although no psychologist would accept this position today due to the advances in our education and technology, this view would be regarded as an environmental “nurture” view. Children used to be considered “blank slates,” onto which anything could be sculpted through environmental experience. Although genetics do play a role in creating traits for an individual, I believe this quote is well said and a great example of the nurture side of the debate. Another “nurture” advocate, Carolyn Csongrodi, says: “I believe that without any experience, the human mind is a “white paper,” invalid of all characteristics and ideas (Csongradi). Each aspect of behavior is acquired from the environment, she says. These environmental factors determine who we become, the nurture side argues. Experiments and studies have been created and completed in hope to determine whether or not this debate is truly based on nature characteristics or nurture characteristics. I will explore such experiments that involve identical twins, homosexuals, and disorders. A key part of this debate is the studies of identical twins. In a review of two books on the subject by Howard Gruber, he explains the importance of twins: “Identical twins have the exact same heredity. If they are reared together, their similarities may be due to their identical heredity or to their identical environment. If they are reared apart, any differences between them must be connected to differences in their environment, while similarities are mainly due to their identical genetics. This argument sums up the logic behind Niels Juel-Nielsen's study of Danish identical twins reared apart” (Gruber, Nature vs. Nurture: A...
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