Nature Vs Nurture Debate

Nature Vs Nurture Debate

Nature Vs Nurture Debate 

Have you ever wondered how different you would be if you were raised by another family? Or if one of your parents were a completely different person? Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t as straightforward as we’d like it to be, which is what the nature vs nurture debate is concerned with.  

To put it simply, the nature vs. nurture debate explores the extent to which particular behaviours, personality traits and mental health issues are inherited or influenced by the environment. In this blog, you’ll learn which theories contributed to the debate and discover how both nature and nurture can affect mental health. 

Main Theories That Contributed to the Debate  

  1. Behaviourism

According to this approach, our behaviour is a sum of our experiences. In other words, behaviourists believed that mental health problems can be explained by influences from the environment. For example, psychologist John Watson argued that any child can be raised to become whoever a parent wants them to become, whether it’s an artist or a doctor, because conditioning matters more than genes. Another researcher, John Money attempted to raise a boy as a girl to argue that early conditioning determines one’s gender.  

  1. Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura’s theory is another nurture approach that emphasises the importance of the environment except it also assumes that behaviour is acquired through the process of observational learning. For example, in his experiment with a Bobo doll, he observed that children learned aggressive behaviour by watching someone behave aggressively. According to this theory, one could argue that if a child is raised by anxious parents, they’ll experience anxiety in the future. However, the role of biological factors can’t be denied.  

  1. Humanism

Humanists believed that individual life experiences influence the way someone understands the world, however, they also recognised the importance of biology. For example, according to the hierarchy of needs theory developed by Abraham Maslow, people have common needs that have to be fulfilled to achieve self-realisation, which plays an important role in personality development.  

  1. Cognitive approach

Psychologists in favour of this approach believed that our behaviour is influenced by both the environment and innate cognitive abilities. Cognitive therapy based on this theory assumes that targeting and modifying unhelpful thoughts can improve mental health issues.  

  1. Biological approach

According to biological theory, our behaviour can be explained via genes, neurochemicals or hormones. This approach has been supported by numerous adoption studies. For example, one of the earlier studies discovered that the IQ of children who were adopted at a young age resembled the IQ of their biological mothers. [1] 

Further evidence for the biological approach comes from twin studies. The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) is one of the largest twin research that investigates the relationship between behaviour and genetic and environmental factors. A study from 2007 concluded that genes are responsible for similarities in performance while environment contributes to differences in performance. [2] 

  1. Psychoanalysis

The founder of the psychanalysis theory, Sigmund Freud, believed that behaviour can be explained by the environment as well as innate drives. He suggested that we are born with 3 parts of our psyche: the id, ego and superego. The id is responsible for instinctual behaviour that comes from basic needs such as hunger and thirst, superego is a moral conscience that develops due to upbringing, with the superego helping balance them. While id is inherited, ego and superego are influenced by individual experiences. 


How Does Nature Affect Mental Health 

Many mental health disorders, such as bipolar, ADHD or schizophrenia are said to have roots in genetics. For example, recent findings from twin studies estimate the heritability of schizophrenia to be 79%.[3] Similarly, borderline personality disorder has an estimated heritability of 60-85%. [4]. If someone in your family suffered from a mental health problem, you’re more likely to experience it too. 

How Does Environment Affect Mental Health 

Even if you’re genetically predisposed to developing certain health problems, some genes can be only activated under specific circumstances. For example, a person with a family history of addiction might not share the family’s fate as long as they aren’t surrounded by people who cultivate those harmful habits. Evidence for this approach comes from several previous studies, including one conducted by the University of Liverpool that found that the biggest determinant of depression and anxiety was a traumatic life experience, while a family history of illness came second. [5] 

Evidence from studies investigating the importance of nature and nurture is vast and some findings might lean towards the former approach, some towards the latter. This is why the focus is no longer on deciding which one has more influence but on discovering how both nature and nurture interact to create certain behaviours and health issues.  

The Interaction Of Nurture And Nature 

Evidence from previous studies shows that nurture and nature influence one another – some genes can be expressed under specific environmental conditions and some behavioural traits might make it more likely for someone to live through certain experiences. For example, even if a child is genetically predisposed to being tall, if they’re subjected to malnutrition, this gene might not be expressed. Similarly, If you’re at risk of developing physical health issues, you can reduce the impact of genetics by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  

On the other hand, even if there isn’t a history of depression in your family, if you’re exposed to violence, you’re more likely to develop mental issues. Similarly, while you might not be born naturally flexible, you can achieve flexibility with enough practice and hard work. 

While there’s still a lot more research to be done on the subject, nature and nurture essentially work together.  


If you are feeling pressured or need someone to speak to, contact My Family Psychologist for a confidential chat about how we may be able to help.

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