The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

Nature vs. Nurture Debate — Therapy Blog

The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about 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.

History of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

The nature vs. nurture debate is an ongoing one. The modern debate often centers around the effect genes have on human disposition as opposed to the influences that early environment and development might have. As culture changes, so have popular understandings of this debate.

In the 1960s, for example, psychologists—and pop culture in general—were heavily influenced by the theories of behaviorism. This theory led to the widespread belief that human personality is primarily influenced by experience and training.

It was during this time that researcher John Money attempted to demonstrate that gender was a product of early conditioning by raising a boy, whose circumcision was botched, as a girl. His experiment seemed successful in the beginning but ultimately was a failure.

In recent years, the nature side of the debate has gained more attention, with headlines trumpeting newly discovered genes for virtually every behavior.

Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are two branches of science that attempt to demonstrate the evolutionary roots of human behavior. Books authored by scientists in these fields are extremely popular.

However, critics still emphasize the important role of early childhood environment, development, and cultural influences. Many have argued that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are deterministic pseudosciences.

Twin and Identical Twin Studies

Several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics, sexual orientation, and religiosity.

The bond between identical twins was also suggested to be genetic by these studies, as 80% of identical twins reported that they felt closer to their twin than they did to their closest friends, despite having just met their twin.

One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart.

How Nature Affects Mental Health

While nature, or genetics, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic.

Nature, or genetics and disposition, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression. Bipolar, for example, is four to six times more ly to develop when there is a family history of the condition.

However, although the importance of genetic factors cannot be denied, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic. For example, identical twins share their genes, yet if one twin develops schizophrenia, research shows the other twin only has a 50% chance of also developing the condition.

This indicates that nature, while it plays an important part, is not the only contributing factor.

Another area where researchers may place more emphasis on nature than on nurture is that of addictions. Research indicates that alcohol addiction, for example, can recur in families and that certain genes may influence how alcohol tastes and the way it affects the body.

How Nurture Affects Mental Health

Certain genetic factors may create a predisposition for a particular illness, but the probability that a person develops that illness depends in part on environment (nurture).

When a genetic variant indicates the possibility of developing a mental illness, this information can be used to direct positive (nurturing) behavior in such a way that the condition may not develop or may develop with less severity.

James Fallon, a neuroscientist who discovered that he had the brain of a psychopath, has stated that he believes growing up in a nurturing and loving environment helped him become a successful adult and may have been effective at preventing him from fully developing traits of psychopathy.

Similarly, the basis for addiction is not thought to be entirely genetic by most researchers. Environmental aspects, such as the habits of parents, friends, or a partner, might also be significant factors contributing to the development of an addiction.

A genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction may be far more significant if one is routinely exposed to binge drinking or other forms of alcohol abuse and comes to view this as normal alcohol use.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool recently found that while a family history of mental health conditions was the second strongest predictor of mental illness, the strongest predictor was in fact life events and experiences, such as childhood bullying, abuse, or other trauma. This supports the idea that nurture plays significant role in the development of mental health issues.

Nature vs. Nurture in Therapy

In the mental health field, some therapeutic treatments and approaches may be nature-based or nurture-based, depending on which paradigm to which they adhere.

For example, an extremely nature-based approach might seek to address mental health on a biological or genetic level, while a nurture-based approach could be more ly to address a person’s learned beliefs and behaviors.

Most approaches borrow from both nature and nurture-based philosophies, and many seek to address the interaction between nature and nurture.

For example, using medication to treat a mental health issue may be a primarily nature-based approach, while behavioral therapy, which stems from behaviorist psychology, addresses a person’s upbringing and conditioning and takes a nurture-based point of view. Meanwhile, therapies based in cognitive psychology may be more ly to address the effects of both nature and nurture.

It is possible to find a therapist who takes a more nature or nurture-based approach to treatment. However, many therapists today consider multiple factors, including how the nature and nurture work together, during a session.

How Nature and Nurture Interact

Many scientists eschew the nature vs. nurture debate by emphasizing “nature x nurture.” In this schema, nature and nurture are inseparable. Some genes, for example, cannot be activated without certain environmental inputs. The development of vision is a prime example of this. People cannot develop normal sight without exposure to visual stimuli.

Similarly, some environmental inputs may be undermined by some genes. For example, some lifelong smokers may never experience smoking-related illnesses, and this may be due at least in part to their genes. Environmental toxins may alter the expression of some genes, and genes for many behaviors presumed to have a genetic basis have not been discovered.

Developmental systems theory, among other theories, presents an alternative to this debate that does not require scientists to advocate either for nature or nurture.


  1. Agin, D. P. (2010). More than genes: What science can tell us about toxic chemicals, development, and the risk to our children. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Alcoholism Nature vs. Nurture. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  3. Facts about Bipolar Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2015, from
  4. Iliades, C. (2013, February 7). Mental Illness May Be In Your Genes. Retrieved from
  5. Lewis, T. (2014, August 11). Twins Separated at Birth Reveal Staggering Influence of Genetics. Retrieved from
  6. Ohikuare, J. (2014, January 21). Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath. Retrieved from
  7. Moore, D. S. (2003). The dependent gene: The fallacy of nature vs. nurture. New York, NY: Henry Holt.
  8. Putt, G. (2013, October 20). Nurture Over Nature: Mental Illness and Traumatic Life Events. Retrieved from

Last Updated:09-28-2018


4 Human Behavior: Nature or Nurture?

The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Describe Galton’s contributions towards the Nature and Nurture theory.
  • Differentiate between the influence of genes and environment, as well as a combination of both.
  • Define and Describe Epigenetics.
  • Explain the difference between Social Learning Theory and Genetic Inheritance Theory.
  • Explain the findings of the Bobo doll experiment.
  • Understand the Grizzly Bear article.
  • Understand the Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies article.
  • Understand key concepts and definitions pertaining to nature vs nurture.

Introduction: What Do We Mean By
Nature Vs Nurture?

In this chapter it is discussed that nature vs nurture is the debate of whether we are a product of nature (genetics) or nurture (environment). There is evidence supporting both sides of the debate. By the end of this, you should be able to determine that both nature and nurture play a key role in humans and animal behaviour.

The memory match game allows you to identify keywords pertaining to nature and nurture. The goal is to click a card and match the word on the card, with another card that has the same word. Now that you know how to play, let’s see how many you can match!


Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)

When we refer to nature, we are talking about our genetics that we inherit from our parents.

 A fairly recent study (Kamran, 2016) conducted in Pakistan suggests that the parallels drawn regarding the temperament of siblings are due to their genetics.

The results of this study states that the genetic makeup of relatives of the family (even deceased) also influence how the child acts. These behaviours of the child are identifiable by the family members even though the deceased family member no longer is present.

Browse through Galton’s timeline and discover his story!

The following pioneers play a key role in what we know about nature and nurture today! The goal of the game is to pair the correct pioneer with the correct fact pertaining to the pioneer. If you place your mouse above the pioneer, there is a fun fact that has a clue to help. Be careful, there is a trick pioneer!

  • Nature: refers to all of the genes and hereditary factors that influence who we are- from our physical appearance to our personality characteristics (definition retrieved from on November 17, 2019).
  • Epigenetics: the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence (definition retrieved from on November 17, 2019)


Albert Bandura, born in 1925.

When we refer to nurture, we are talking about all the environmental factors that influence us.

Environmental factors include but aren’t limited to parenting style, birth order, peers, family size, culture, language, education, etc. The main argument for nurture is that the environment is what makes us who we are.

Those who are on the extreme side of nurture are empiricists. They believe humans are born as blank slates and acquire all information from their environment with their 5 senses.

Behaviorism, established by John Watson, is the theory that all behavior is a result of stimulation from the environment or a consequence of the individual’s previous conditioning. Behaviorism is a school of psychology that is on the side of nurture.

A study in 2019 performed an experiment on Bonobos (a species of chimpanzee) to observe social learning. The results of the experiment found supporting evidence that Bonobos are able to learn from observing others of their species just humans.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory states that people learn by observing, imitating, and modeling behavior. In 1961, Bandura’s famous Bobo doll experiment’s findings support the argument for nurture in that our environment influences our behavior.

Key Terms: 

  • Nurture: Environmental factors that influence our growth and behaviour.
  • Empiricism: The belief that people are born as a blank slate learn everything from their environment.

Nature or Nurture? Or Both?

Given what we have discussed so far, is it genes or environment that influences behaviour? It is actually both genetic and social influences that contributes to an individual’s behaviour. Below is a video that explains how both components contribute to an individual.

Now that you understand how genes and environment work together, is it possible for one component to influence an individual more than the other? Below is an article that explains how grizzly bears’ conflict behaviour may attribute to genetic inheritance or social learning… talk about beary bad behaviour!

 Beary Bad Behaviour

Welcome to the Grizzly Bear den. Inside there are paws, click any paw to learn key concepts within the article! Don’t worry, the bears won’t bite!

A study done in Alberta, Canada analyzed the genetic and environmental relationship of grizzly bears, pertaining to their offspring’s conflict behaviour. The study predicts that aggression is determined genetically from either biological parents.

If the cub’s conflict behaviour is inherited from the father’s genes, then necessary relocation of wildlife protection is necessary to avoid human-conflict interaction.

If the cub’s behaviour is inherited from the mother’s genes, then relocation of female bears is much more difficult to do as there are legal wildlife implications.

The study genotyped 213 grizzly bears, most of which were males.

The study described conflict-beahviour or “problem bear” as those that exemplified invasive or aggressive behaviour on private property, public property, or had an incident with an individual.

The results of the study indicated that the offspring of the female parent displayed a negative interaction more so than the offspring from the male parent.

According to Morehouse et al., (2016), “results support the social learning hypothesis, but not the genetic inheritance hypothesis as it relates to the acquisition of conflict behaviour.

If human-bear conflict was an inherited behaviour, we would have expected to see a significant relationship between paternal conflict behaviour and offspring behaviour.

 Social learning has the potential to perpetuate grizzly bear conflicts highlighting the importance of preventing initial conflicts, but also removing problem individuals once conflicts start” (p.7). 

In this study, it talks about the general observations of 50 study samples regarding over 800,000 pairs of twins and how their behavior may have been impacted by genes or by their environment.

Due to the ethical limitations of human experimentation, there can only be a conclusion that there are mild causal effects.

Heritable estimations are quite frankly useless in these studies because the results purely depend on the environmental conditions of the study participants, and it only becomes applicable when all participants are in the same environment.

If a separated teen is brought up in a rich environment, their gene makeup has a higher lihood of being a factor in their upbringing.

If his or her counterpart twin, in contrast, is brought up in a poor environment, the influence of their genes will be insignificant because of a less nurturing surrounding.

Another example is the first sexual encounter on separated twins; do their shared genetics influence them to take action around the same time? The answer is no, because such events are a result of the environmental influences of delinquency.

Psychologist Eric Turkheimer states that there are essentially Three Laws of Behaviour Genetics:

“First Law: All human behavioural traits are heritable.

Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.

Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.”

He explains that genes only make up ~50% of our behaviours while the rest is influenced by our environment.

“The omnipresence of genetic influences does not [mean] that behaviour is less psychological or more biologically determined”, but it’s the facilitation of the environmental conditions that allows people to bring out their full behaviouristic tendencies to light; and even then, our genes are only half the story.

The following video is a study that looked at the effects of nature and nurture on twins. In short, there are many coincidences that may seem that their actions come from genetic relations.

  • To answer the question of whether we are a product of Nature or Nurture, we are both. We are a product of our genetics, and our environment. Through our genetics, we have a certain baseline personality, but that changes over time due to the influence of our surroundings: the people we hang out with and the overall level of nourishment in our growing environment.
  •  In summary, several studies and research it can be concluded that human behaviour is both nature and nurture. In addition, evidence also supports that animal behaviour specifically (grizzly bears) is also due to nature and nurture. Many aspects of the nature vs. nurture theory argues that various behaviours in humans are based both on genetics and the environment of an individual. However, it is possible that one variable from the theory may contribute more of an effect on the individual.

Chapter References

ABC News (2018, Mar 10) 20/20 Mar 9 Part 2: Adopted twins were separated and then part of a secret study. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from

Benjamin, J. (2017, March 31). Cancer: Nature Vs. Nurture. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from Editors. (2019, August 28). Charles Darwin Biography. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from

Cherry, K. (2019, July 1). The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from

David L, “Social Learning Theory (Bandura),” in Learning Theories, February 7, 2019,

Det medisinke fakultet. (2016, January 26). Epigenetics: Nature vs nurture. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from

Everywhere Psychology. (2012, August 28). Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from

FuseSchool-Global Education. (2019, August 27). Nature vs Nurture | Genetics | Biology | FuseSchool Retrieved November 18, 2019 from

Gervais, M. (2017, August 31). Dr. Albert Bandura – The Theory of Agency. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from

Johnson W, Turkheimer E, Gottesman II, Bouchard TJ Jr. Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies in Behavioral Research. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2010;18(4):217–220. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01639.x

Kamran, F., PhD. (2016). Are siblings different as ‘day and night’? parents’ perceptions of nature vs. nurture. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 26(2), 95-115. Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster. (2019). Retrieved November 17, 2019 from

McLeod, S. A. (2016, Feb 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology.

McLeod, S. A. (2018, Dec 20). Nature vs nurture in psychology. Simply Psychology.

Miko, I. (2008) Gregor Mendel and the principles of inheritance. Nature Education 1(1):134

Morehouse, A. T., Graves, T. A., Mikle, N., & Boyce, M. S. (2016). Nature vs. nurture: Evidence for social learning of conflict behaviour in grizzly bears. PLoS One, 11(11) doi:

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2011). The legacies of francis galton.Lancet, the, 377(9775), 1397-1397.doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60560-6

Shorland, G., Genty, E., Guéry, J.-P., & Zuberbühler, K. (2019). Social learning of arbitrary food preferences in bonobos. Behavioural Processes, 167.

TED-Ed. (2013, March 12). How Mendel’s pea plants helped us understand genetics. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from

Thesaurus.Plus . (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2019, from

Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science9(5), 160–164.

Winch, J. (2012, Mar 08). Genius with a finger on the pulse of discovery: Birmingham-born sir francis galton was a victorian genius.

but today he would be thought a racist because of the controversial interest for which he is best remembered – eugenics. jessica winch reports. Birmingham Post. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.kpu.


Wikipedia. (2019, November 16). Francis Galton. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from


Добавить комментарий

;-) :| :x :twisted: :smile: :shock: :sad: :roll: :razz: :oops: :o :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :grin: :evil: :cry: :cool: :arrow: :???: :?: :!: