What is the nature vs. nurture debate?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. There are certain traits and conditions that many of us would like to have -- intelligence, athletic ability -- but there are others, such as psychopathy and cancer, that we'd like to avoid. To replicate or evade certain circumstances, you must know where they come from. The nature or nurture debate concerns whether these traits and conditions are a product of genetics or of the environment in which a person is brought up. For example, let's say that a man grows up to be a violent killer. Was he born with a gene that makes a person more violent? Or, were circumstances in his upbringing the ultimate cause of such a career? Did he lack loving parents? Was he exposed to violent movies and music? The nature or nurture debate has been difficult to resolve because there are plenty of people born with certain genes who don't grow up to express the traits associated with those genes, just as there have been plenty of people who have confounded all predictions based on how they were brought up.

    Have scholars, psychologists and researchers figured out yet whether nature is stronger than nurture -- or vice versa? In some instances, it appears that nature nurture plays a greater role than nurture, and sometimes the reverse appears to be true. But more and more, people are coming to view this debate as a tie: People are influenced by both nature and nurture. A person's upbringing and environment affect his or her genes far too much to discount either option. If a man has a gene that's linked with being tall but he doesn't receive proper nutrition, then he may not reach full genetic potential. If a woman has a gene linked with musical ability but she never takes a violin lesson, she will never reach that potential either. On the other hand, someone born without a gene that lends itself to musical genius may still reach that point through hard work, lots of practice and supportive parents and peers.

    As scientists debate the issue, they gain more information to support the notion that neither nature nor nurture is mutually exclusive. When researchers completed mapping the human body's 30,000-plus genes, the information helped speed up advances in explaining our many and varied diseases and behaviors. But even though 30,000 genes may sound like a lot to us, some scientists say that is far too few to explain all of the variations seen in people. It's more likely that our genes change throughout our lives in response to our environments, says Evelyn Fox Keller, author of "The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture" [source: Discover Magazine].

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