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Nature vs. Nurture Debate


Wilhelm Wundt

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)

The History of Nature vs. Nurture

Psychology as a science can be dated back to psychologist Wilhelm Wundt who in 1879 developed the first psychology lab located in Leipzig, Germany.

While many theorists before Wundt had their own ideas, feelings and thoughts it was Wundt who was able to guide psychology to becoming a accepted scientific discipline.

Over the years many psychologists have studied and theorized human behaviors in an attempt to figure out why people act the way they act, but it seems the answer is never black or white; always grey.


Hereditary vs. Enviorment

Theorist, Franicis Galton coined the hereditary vs. environment theory (what we now know as nature vs. nurture) after reading a book written by Charles Darwin entitled: On the Origin of Species.

Orgin of Species

Although this book did not directly discuss the theory of nature vs. nurture or hereditary vs. environment it seemed to dance around the idea that individuals born into wealthy homes, social privilege(s) and good education seemed to pass this off to offspring as well. These ideas got Galton thinking; hence hereditary vs. environmental factors in dictating behavior(s) was theorized.

As psychology has matured many theorists have made the nature vs. nurture debate the backbone of their studies on behavior.

While neither argument (nature or nurture) seems to be "ahead" of the other they both shed light on why human beings act the way they do.

Let's take a brief stroll into the nature vs. nurture debate that has been in the forefront of explaining human behaviors for centuries.



The nature argument states that human beings are genetically wired to do things based on their genetic make-up. What is biological make-up?

To explain this briefly "daddy" contributes 23 chromosomes (via semen) to "mommy" (ova) 9-10 months later a baby made up of 46 chromosomes is born.

Therefore a baby is rightfully half their mother and half their father, making that baby 100% unique.

Back to our nature argument.....


Since all our physical attributes are undeniably connected to that of our family members (hair color, eye color, height, etc.) nature clearly wins in this arena.

However, we will come back to this example a little later as we explore nurture.

Strictly following the nature side of the debate this would also mean that we are pre-wired to behave a certain way, have similar personalities, and be mentally equal to our parents; from conception until death with no outside influences coming into play.



Nurture takes a different approach. The nurture argument states that babies are born with a "blank slate", otherwise known as tabula rasa (in the psychology world) and what they learn growing up dictates their behaviors, personalities and mental capabilities. In a nutshell nurture believes that the life experiences of a baby, child, teenager, and young adult "molds" them into the adults they become.

Remember how we talked about our physical attributes being genetically predetermined by that of our parents. Well this is only at birth, when your teenageager decides to dye their hair purple because they "learned" they could; nurture wins.


Nature vs. Nurture


The War

A common practice among nature vs. nurture theorists is the study of twins who were separated at birth.

Twin studies allow scientists to observe the differences in a child's upbringing (or environment) while maintaining the same genetic influences.

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Tell me what you think....

Who Wins?

In my opinion human beings are finely tuned from genetics and the environment.

I believe that we are pre-wired to inherit certain characteristics and these characteristics either stay with us as we grow or change and adapt to the circumstances we encounter as we mature.

That said psychology has yet to side solely with nature or nurture which leads me to believe that both must come into play at one time or another in our lives.


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Nature, Nurture, or Both?

Rfordin (author) from Florida on April 19, 2013:

Hi Purpose Embraced,

The nature/nurture debate will never end. People will always lean one way or the other. As an adoptee who reconnected with her bio family I've had the unique oppurtunity to see just how much of "me" is nature and what is nurture. It's all so fascinating to me. Anyway thank you for stopping by to see me.


Yvette Stupart PhD from Jamaica on April 19, 2013:

Thanks for sharing. The nature-nurture debate continues. But I think both nature and nurture are important in child development. A child is born with certain endowment, but the environment he grows up in also matters.

LetitiaFT from Paris via California on August 11, 2012:

Really interesting well-written hub. With all the evidence in favor of both nature & nurture, it's amazing anyone would take sides today. But then that's true of so many things in life, isn't it? Thanks for sharing.

Stan Rosen on July 24, 2012:

I enjoyed reading Rfordin's article. I don't believe there are any winners to nature vs nuture. I believe we have evolved way behind this somewhat narrow point of view . Both views are highly integrated and interconnected within the brain that these definitive positions evaporate. Genetics and the relational environment highly influence the infant's brain to develop in a unique way and adapts according to the need to adapt. The genes turn on and off according to this need thus affecting behavior, how the infant will develop and respond according to his internal (how she/he thinks about himself ) or external (how he perceive the environment which also includes others). How belief systems, learning and memory work are also part of this equation. For what we perceive, believe and remember is what we will act on. Thus, nature vs nurture are blurred in this highly complex system.

Dianna Mendez on July 24, 2012:

Wow, this is a great article and so well written. It really poses a challenge to consider this perspective.

Rfordin (author) from Florida on July 23, 2012:

Hi Jclaffee,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you found it interesting but most of all I'm glad you agreed with me ;).

Jesse Claffee from Winston-Salem, NC on July 23, 2012:

Great read! I remember studying this in various psych classes in college and always found it very interesting. I think it is important to attribute genetics and up-bringing with responsibility for individual development, just as you articulated. A nuture-only perspective gives little room to accept people as distinct individuals, since super-strict regulation of children is usually associated with a mandatory adherence to some idealistic standard. However, a nature-only perspective frees reasonably functioning people from taking responsibility for their actions.

I agree completely with your final assessment of this psychological debate. Excellent work!

Rfordin (author) from Florida on July 23, 2012:

Hi Gsidley,

I think the identical twins being separated at birth and raised by different families has more merit deifnitely. I could only assume that identical twins would be treated "identical" (excuse the pun) by the same families since they are being raised the same way and experiencing (most) of the same things day in and day out.

Thanks for stopping by!

Dr. Gary L. Sidley from Lancashire, England on July 23, 2012:

Hi Rfordin

A well written hub on an interesting topic.

I think you have it about right; it's not either/or, but an interaction between the two.

The literature on identical twin studies has a checkered history. Although at first sight it seems to provide a way of unraveling what is inherited from what is learnt, it is complicated by the fact that identical twins are usually treated more similarly by family members than ordinary siblings.

Voted up.

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