Nature vs. Nurture
The nature vs. nurture argument is one that has been around for many yearsâ€”especially since the behavioral sciences emerged in the 20th century with the experiments of Skinner and Bandura. It was Banduraâ€™s (1977) theory of social learning that viewed all behavior as learned from oneâ€™s environment. Skinner (1957) likewise postulated that it was the â€œnurturingâ€ side of oneâ€™s experience that shaped human activity, thought and expression. Galton (1883) on the other hand felt differently. He predated both Skinner and Bandura and was himself a student of Darwin. He thus postulated that â€œnatureâ€ was responsible for the development of human behaviorâ€”that some people were simply born with greater gifts, such as intellectual ability, than others. Galton was a 19th century philosopher and scientist and his views aligned with ideas like the Great Man Theory, which articulated the position that great leaders are born, not made. This paper will show how the debate between nature vs. nurture has never really abated and how there is most likely a little bit of evidence to support both sides of the argumentâ€”meaning the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Darwin introduced the idea of the theory of evolution in the 19th century and advanced the notion that nature is responsible for human development. Whatever skills and attributes people acquire over time is done so because of a need to adapt in order to survive. Individual human beings receive genetic coding from their parents that enables them to carry on these adaptive skills throughout their lifetime and pass them on to the next generation. Galton viewed this idea as the most likely explanation for human behavior. This concept was popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, as the eugenics movement got underway. Scientists and researchers were interested in controlling the population development in the West by genetically engineering the human race. Birth control came about as a result of the eugenics movement. It was viewed as a way to limit the nature of unappealing persons who added nothing positive to the gene pool.
However by mid-century the idea that human behavior was largely learned became a dominant view thanks to the experiments of Skinner and Bandura. They showed that children could be taught to respond to things (such as rats) in a positive light if the idea of fear were not associated to the creatures by others; likewise, they would pick up social behaviors the older they grew by observing the behaviors of those around them and imitating them. Social learning theory became a dominant idea in psychology and in criminology as researchers attempted to understand why individuals acted out or behaved in specific manners.
Though the debate has never been solved, neither side has ever really been put to rest because both offer compelling arguments. There is something to be said about DNA and the role that genetics play in passing on certain aspects and qualities of the human condition from one generation to the next. This can be seen in physical aspects certainly. At the same time, oneâ€™s environment surely plays a part in determining human behavior as well. Individuals who follow in the footsteps of their predecessors most likely do so because that is simply what they observed growing up. Neither one fully explains human behavior fully, howeverâ€”for sometimes individuals deviate from what their ancestors have done and what those around them are doing. They stand out and stand aloneâ€”they are inventors or leaders in their own right. They display the application of free will, which is a factor that neither side of the nature vs. nurture debate fully tackles. To be more representational, the debate should be more like: nature vs. nurture vs. will.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Galton, F. (1883). Inquiries into human faculty and its development. London: J.M. Dent
Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group.
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