The nature versus nurture debate Essay

The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest issues in sociology (Davidson, 1991, n.p.). The debate centers on the relative contributions of genetics and environmental factors to human behavior (Davidson, 1991, n.p.). Today, the majority of experts believe that behavior and development are influenced by both nature and nurture (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). The biggest question now is which one affects human development more: nature or nurture? According to Macionis (2009, p. 72), in the past, it was always common knowledge that human “behavior was instinctive, simply our nature.

” Some scientists thought that people behaved as they did according to genetic tendencies or even animal instincts (Macionis, 2009, p. 72). This is known as the nature theory of human behavior (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). Charles Darwin and many other sociologists believed that humans were given certain instincts at birth that determined their personality and behavior (Macionis, 2009, p. 72). Such thinking would explain why certain types of people acted a certain way. This idea of nature over nurture was the primary belief of sociologists until the twentieth century when a man named John B.

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Watson developed the term of behaviorism (Macionis, 2009, p. 73).

This theory basically indicated that “behavior [was] not instinctive but learned” which meant that humans were born equal (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). This term changed the study of human behavior entirely. Other scientists believed that people thought and behaved in certain ways because they were taught to do so (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). This is known as the nurture theory of human behavior (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). Human behavior was no longer rooted from nature but in nurture. According to Macionis (2009, p. 73), as human beings, it is one’s nature to nurture. In Keay Davidson’s “Nature vs. Nurture,” he expresses his belief that recent studies of human behavior were determined more by politics than research (Davidson, 1991, n.p.). He states that many groundbreaking discoveries “tend to make the front page, while subsequent disproofs tend to be buried deep inside the paper” (Davidson, 1991, n.p.).

Davidson (1991, n.p.) goes on to explain the “long and often ugly… nature-nurture debate” and how it is “based on a false dichotomy.” One’s behaviors are not necessarily determined by only nature and only nurture, but “both genes and environment” (Davidson, 1991, n.p.). So the real debate is: Which one plays a bigger role? Davidson (1991, n.p.) then supplies concrete examples of specific instances when human behavior research was “perverted” by certain scientists, such as the time when white males converted genetics to “prove their intellectual superiority over women and blacks.” Davidson (1991, n.p.) concludes by explaining that while there have been many discoveries made in the nature-nurture debate; it has generated a lot of worthless matter and controversy. In James Trefil’s “How Much of Human Behavior Depends on Genes? Or Nature vs. Nurture, Tabula Rasa vs. Original Sin, Predestination vs. Free Will” he discusses the issue of nature versus nurture and questions whether humans are “free to behave as they wish or whether their actions are determined in advance” (Trefil, 1996, n.p.).

This mysterious controversy has many people questioning the source of human being social behavior (Trefil, 1996, n.p.). Do our genes determine our personality or is it shaped by our environment? Trefil (1996, n.p.) then explains that in the middle part of this century, “Americans had an almost religious faith” that environment was the primary factor in determining human behavior. But as times changed and more scientific knowledge was gained, people began to believe that genes played a more prominent role in determining behavior (Trefil, 1996, n.p.). Trefil (1996, n.p.) concludes by stating that the science of human behavior “will continue to be enormously influenced by the rapid advances in molecular biology.” With further research, scientist will eventually understand personality and behavior and how much of it is determined by human genetics.

The two articles I chose to summarize are related to the concept from the chapter because they all discus the nature-nurture debate. All three of the sources give the reader an explanation of the different viewpoints of the topic of human behavior. A century ago, most people thought human behavior resulted from biological instinct, but sociologist now believe that it is determined a little more by one’s surroundings (Davidson, 1991, n.p.). All three sources question the fight over how much of whom we are is shaped by genes and how much by the environment. We do not yet know how much of what we are is determined by our DNA and how much by our life experience, but we do know that both play a part (Macionis, 2009, p. 73). The concept of nature vs. nurture can also be related to my own life.

I have always made really good grades and had tremendous academic success. It just seemed natural that I worked hard in school, that it was in my genes maybe, but when I asked my parents how they did in school they told me that they struggled every year. They said that they made mediocre grades and never really cared about school. This really surprised me because I thought that because they pushed me so hard with academics that they must have done well in school themselves. But that was not the case. I was always surrounded by an environment that forced me to believe that I should never accept anything less than an A. This proved that it was not nature that gave me my academic abilities but the nurture I received from my parents.

Macionis, J. J. (2009). Socialization: From Infancy to Old Age. Society: the basics (International ed., 10th ed., pp. 72-73). Boston, MA: Pearson Education. Davidson, K. (1991, January 20). Nature Vs. Nurture. SIRS Issues Researcher. Retrieved September 13, 2012, from Trefil, J. (1996, January 1). How Much of Human Behavior Depends on Genes? Or Nature vs. Nurture, Tabula Rasa vs. Original Sin, Predestination vs. Free Will . SIRS Issues Researcher. Retrieved September 13, 2012, from

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