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The Importance of Nurture over Nature

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Without question, both nurture and nature play significant roles in the development of an individual, both mentally and physically. So, the question remains: which has the greater influence? Nature versus nurture is about the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities versus their personal experiences in determining differences in physical and behavioral traits in a person. Many aspects of an individual are predetermined by their genes, such as their physical traits and their personality traits; however, these characteristics can be greatly altered by the environment in which the individual is raised.

Humans acquire all or most of their behavioral traits from ‘nurture’ this is known as tabula rasa, or blank slate. Beginning with a clean slate at birth, one goes through life gaining experiences and views that shape them into who they grow up to be. The theory of tabula rasa is what many philosophers use to support the view that nurture plays a more important role than nature. There is no power greater than nurture; nothing will affect one more deeply than the way one is raised. Many leading psychologists have tried to prove both sides of this argument including, B.F. Skinner and one of his very well-known studies on children and their IQ’s and IQ development.

Torsten Weisel and David Hubel also support this theory through their studies of the influence of parenting in the early months of childhood. John B. Watson is another professional who created an experiment to train a child to have certain feelings towards certain objects, such as animals. Lastly parents and the environment that they are in more or less decide whether their child is going to develop properly during and after pregnancy. As one can see based on these facts nature can be looked at as a rough guideline for any individual; however, one’s personality and physical characteristics cannot fully develop without proper nurture.

Psychologist, B.F. Skinner, led an experiment on children and teenagers made to discover the relationship between nutrition and intelligence. Children between the ages of twelve and thirteen were given an IQ test and were then required to take nutritional supplements for eight months thereafter. After the eight month trial period the IQ test was retaken and the children’s scores had improved. Due to this experiment Skinner was able to prove the direct relationship between nutrition and human intelligence (Onkal, 2005).

This makes it clear that it’s not in an individuals nature to be more or less intelligent then another person, but its based on what the child is exposed to that makes them more intelligent. Parents are also responsible for a child’s behaviour and intelligence. Between birth and eighteen months of age, parents have a heavy influence on the growth and development of their child. Scientists, Torsten Weisel and David Hubel, studied this influence extensively during the 1970s. They discovered that during this time, parents are responsible for a part of the brain’s development that develops self-esteem and other emotions.

By properly parenting a child in those key first months of life, parents are helping the child to develop trust and security. Weisel and Hubel also stated that by laying these foundations, the child will be able to connect with the world and learn more easily (Morton). This is part of B.F. Skinner’s learning theory, which can be easily linked to tabula rasa – each new reinforcement will add a new mark to ones slate.

Throughout life incidents will happen in everyday life that may lead to negative and serious consequences, from getting grounded to going to jail, but fortunately one can learn from these mistakes and become a better person. Detention centers are a real life example of B.F. Skinner’s reinforcement theory through the punishment of bad behavior in society. Through these multiple experiments one can see that it is not nature that determines ones personality but rather nurture instead.

The nurture theory states that personality traits and intelligence are solely based on one’s upbringing and surrounding environment (Powell, 2010). Scientists that favour the nurture theory argue that certain environmental factors can determine a child’s personality, for example, American psychologist, John Watson, studied the effects of the environment on a child’s behavior (Powell, 2010). He concluded that children could be groomed to have certain behavioral traits with his experiments on an orphan named Albert.

He exposed Albert to a series of scenarios in order to test whether he could train him to have desired behavioral traits. In one experiment, Watson put Albert in a room by himself with a white rat and Albert responded well to the rat by petting it and holding it. Watson then began to play loud noises when the rat would approach Albert. These noises scared the child, and because there was no other item in the room to associate the noises with, Albert associated them with the rat.

This trained Albert to become scared of the rat that he had once been comfortable with (Onkal, 2005). John Watson later said, “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified 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…regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors” (Onkal, 2005). Watson proved that a child can be molded to have any given personality trait by simply changing his or her surrounding environment.

Other studies have also been conducted and have proved that a child’s environment determines his or her intelligence levels. The most notable of these studies was conducted on twins. Twin studies are conducted by separating identical or fraternal twins at birth and raising them in contrasting environments. Scientists use twins to study the nature versus nurture debate because twins are born with identical sets of DNA (Powell, 2010). For the nature theory, raising the twins in separate environments would have no impact on the level of intelligence of the child. This is because, as previously noted, the nature debate argues that genetics controls a person’s intelligence. Both twins should have identical IQ scores due to their identical genetic codes (Heredity, 2011).

However, researchers discovered that the environment that a child is raised in changes his or her level of intelligence. In one study, unrelated children in the same adoptive household were shown to have the same or very similar IQ scores unlike those of fraternal twins that were raised in separate households and had varying scores. Similar studies were done in which half of a group of children was sent to educational daycare and the other half was not. After completion, the experiment indicated that the children that were not sent to daycare had higher IQs than those that were not (Onkal, 2005).

Not only does an environment surrounding a child affect its intelligence and personality, but the way a child is raised also has a great affect. There are multiple components based on the way a child is brought up that can determine his or her behavior. For instance, nutrition and schooling are major factors in a child’s behavior (Onkal, 2005). When a child receives proper nutrition starting at an early age, it allows his or her brain, muscles, and organs to develop and function at a faster rate than when a child is given poor nutrition.

Studies have shown that children who are malnourished in their developing years do worse in education than those provided with proper nutrition (Impact of Malnutrition). One article on MotherandChildNutrition.org stated that, “The degree of cognitive impairments is directly related to the severity of stunting and Iron Deficiency Anemia. Studies show that stunted children in the first two years of life have lower cognitive test scores, delayed enrollment, higher absenteeism and more class repetition compared with non stunted children”.

Studies also showed that children with a Vitamin A deficiency had a slower immune system. This deficiency increases the chance of getting an illness and missing school. This directly relates with a child’s intelligence level (Impact of Malnutrition). These proven theories show that it is not nature that determines ones intelligence level or behavioural habits but nurture instead.

Parents play the most important role in their children’s lives when it comes to influence. Everything that a mother and father do in front of their child will cause that child to act in a certain way, whether that be using bad language, following a certain religion, violence in the home or even drug or alcohol abuse. Fetal alcohol syndrome, also known as FAS, is an example of a defect caused by alcohol abuse that can severely affect an unborn child. A child can get FAS if their mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy and can cause serious mental and physical abnormalities such as heart defects, organ deformities and so on (A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, 2012).

Nature is not what is causing the babies birth defects but nurture instead because the mother is the one that is consuming the alcohol. FAS is a result of the environment the pregnant mother is in which in turn greatly effects the babies development. A child that witnesses family violence that is directed from one parent to another can result in serious mental suffering on the child’s part. These children can suffer from short and long-term emotional, behavioral, developmental issues as well as peer involvement problems, violence to others, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder (“The effects of”, 2012).

The fact that children can be exposed to violence is not because of nature but is a result of the environment that the child is being raised in. Religion has also been shown to be one of the biggest factor to shape ones life, which is not part of their personality or genetic make-up. Religion is the strongest example of nurture, as it is parents teaching their children about a sense of belonging and the collective consciousness (Giddens, 1991). Religion is introduced to a child by an outside party and is not engrained in them before birth instead it is taught to them throughout their early lives. Overall parents have the ability to shape their child to turn out how they want them to through nurture and not through nature.

An individual’s physical and mental characteristics are not irrevocable; they are constantly changing due to their environment and experiences. The fact that our personalities can change so dramatically over our lifetime proves that we are influenced greatly by something other than our genetic makeup. Nurture over nature, the personality and traits of an individual are decided by the environment that person is brought up in.

Through the experiments of many brilliant psychologists such as B.F. Skinner, Torsten Weisel, David Hubel and John Watson one can see that nurture plays a more important role in the development of a child than nature does. Parents also have a great influence over their children, which can lead them to become balanced individuals or troubled youth depending on how they decide to raise them.

Our DNA never changes, so if it were the sole determining factor of our traits, both mental and physical, people would never change. Our personalities would be the same from birth to death and our characteristics would be completely predetermined. Fortunately there is something more powerful than nature, which has the ability to override the genetic guidelines we are offered. It can dramatically affect our personalities, our physical appearance, and our mental wellbeing. This influential factor is nurture.

Works Cited:

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. (2012). Fetal alcohol syndrome . Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001909/

Echols, M. (1991). I know my first name is steven. nndb.
Retrieved from: http://www.nndb.com/people/440/000085185/

Giddens, A. (1991). Introduction to sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Retrieved from: http://sociology.about.com/od/Disciplines/a/Sociology-Of-Religion.htm

“Heredity and Traits.” Learn.Genetics™. University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center, (2011) Retrieved from: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/traits/>.

“Human Epigenome Project.” Human Epigenome Consortium. Epigenomics AG. Web. 12 Sept. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.epigenome.org/index.php?page=project>.

“Human Genome Sequence Analysis.” Oak Ridge National Laboratory. U.S. Department of Energy Genome Programs, 9 Oct. 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/project/journals/insights.shtml

“Impact of Malnutrition.” (2009) Mother, Infant and Young Child Nutrition & Malnutrition. The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust, Retrieved from: http://motherchildnutrition.org/malnutrition/about-malnutrition/impact-of-ma

Morton, Olive M. “Parents’ Early Choices Affect Children’s Emotional Intelligence.” (2011) Learning Place Online. Learning Place Online. Retrieved from: http://www.learningplaceonline.com/children/Morton/01-early-choices.htm

Onkal, Rustem, Andrea Levine, Jack Payne, Nate Vernon, and Michael Blithe. “Neuroscience Of Intelligence.” (2005) Macalester College: Private Liberal Arts College. Macalester College, Spring Retrieved from: http://www.macalester.edu/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/intelligence05/Rnature.html

Powell, Kimberly. “Nature vs Nurture – How Heredity and Environment Shape Who We Are.” (2010) About Genealogy – Learn How to Research Your Family Tree. A New York Times Company, Retrieved from: http://genealogy.about.com/cs/geneticgenealogy/a/nature_nurture_2.htm>.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Crime Prevention. (2012). The effects of family violence on children (PS64-21/2012 ). Retrieved from: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cp-pc/chi-enf-abu-eng.htm

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