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nature vs nurture debate arguments

Nature and Nurture Debate

The argument continues.

Your physical features can be identified as identical to that of your parents, like your eyes from your father, and the hair color from your mother. However, your personality and talents may have come not from your father or mother. The environment where you grew up may have a lasting effect or influence on that way you talk, behave and respond to the things around you.

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One of the oldest arguments in the history of psychology is the Nature vs Nurture debate. Each of these sides have good points that it's really hard to decide whether a person's development is predisposed in his DNA, or a majority of it is influenced by this life experiences and his environment. As of now, we know that both nature and nurture play important roles in human development, but we have not known yet whether we are developed majorly because of nature or due to nurture.

nature vs nurture debate arguments

The coding of genes in each cell in us humans determine the different traits that we have, more dominantly on the physical attributes like eye color, hair color, ear size, height, and other traits. However, it is still not known whether the more abstract attributes like personality, intelligence, sexual orientation, likes and dislikes are gene-coded in our DNA, too.

One of the hottest issues against nature theory is that there may be an existing "gay gene", which explains that gays are actually born that way. Another issue is that the criminal acts, tendency to divorce and aggressive behavior causing abuse can be justified by the "behavioral genes" once the researchers have proven their existence.

On the other hand, the behavioral genes are somewhat proven to exist when we take a look at fraternal twins. When fraternal twins are reared apart, they show the same similarities in behavior and response as if they have been reared together.

nature vs nurture debate arguments

The nurture theory holds that genetic influence over abstract traits may exist; however, the environmental factors are the real origins of our behavior. This includes the use of conditioning in order to induce a new behavior to a child, or alter an unlikely behavior being shown by the child. According to John Watson, one of the strongest psychologists who propose environmental learning as a dominating side in the nature vs nurture debate, once said that he can be able to train a baby randomly chosen in a group of 12 infants, to become any type of specialist Watson wants. He stated that he could train him to be such regardless of the child's potentialities, talents and race.

Although it is true that fraternal twins raised apart have remarkable similarities in most respects, still the intervention of the environment have caused several differences in the way they behave.

In the end, we are still left with the confusing question: Are we born this way, or do we behave according to our life experiences? The nature vs nurture debate goes on and on, but still, it is a fact that we have traits that are predetermined by our genes, but we can still choose who we want to be as we travel through our lifetime.

Sarah Mae Sincero (Sep 16, 2012). Nature and Nurture Debate. Retrieved Mar 13, 2023 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/nature-vs-nurture-debate

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nature vs nurture debate arguments

The Nature vs. Nurture Debate

Genetic and Environmental Influences and How They Interact

Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

nature vs nurture debate arguments

Verywell / Joshua Seong

Nature refers to how genetics influence an individual's personality, whereas nurture refers to how their environment (including relationships and experiences) impacts their development. Whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role in personality and development is one of the oldest philosophical debates within the field of psychology .

Learn how each is defined, along with why the issue of nature vs. nurture continues to arise. We also share a few examples of when arguments on this topic typically occur, how the two factors interact with each other, and contemporary views that exist in the debate of nature vs. nurture as it stands today.

Nature and Nurture Defined

To better understand the nature vs. nurture argument, it helps to know what each of these terms means.

A few biologically determined characteristics include genetic diseases, eye color, hair color, and skin color. Other characteristics are tied to environmental influences, such as how a person behaves, which can be influenced by parenting styles and learned experiences.

For example, one child might learn through observation and reinforcement to say please and thank you. Another child might learn to behave aggressively by observing older children engage in violent behavior on the playground.

The Debate of Nature vs. Nurture

The nature vs. nurture debate centers on the contributions of genetics and environmental factors to human development. Some philosophers, such as Plato and Descartes, suggested that certain factors are inborn or occur naturally regardless of environmental influences.

Advocates of this point of view believe that all of our characteristics and behaviors are the result of evolution. They contend that genetic traits are handed down from parents to their children and influence the individual differences that make each person unique.

Other well-known thinkers, such as John Locke, believed in what is known as tabula rasa which suggests that the mind begins as a blank slate . According to this notion, everything that we are is determined by our experiences.

Behaviorism is a good example of a theory rooted in this belief as behaviorists feel that all actions and behaviors are the results of conditioning. Theorists such as John B. Watson believed that people could be trained to do and become anything, regardless of their genetic background.

People with extreme views are called nativists and empiricists. Nativists take the position that all or most behaviors and characteristics are the result of inheritance. Empiricists take the position that all or most behaviors and characteristics result from learning.

Examples of Nature vs. Nurture

One example of when the argument of nature vs. nurture arises is when a person achieves a high level of academic success . Did they do so because they are genetically predisposed to elevated levels of intelligence, or is their success a result of an enriched environment?

The argument of nature vs. nurture can also be made when it comes to why a person behaves in a certain way. If a man abuses his wife and kids, for instance, is it because he was born with violent tendencies, or is violence something he learned by observing others in his life when growing up?

Nature vs. Nurture in Psychology

Throughout the history of psychology , the debate of nature vs. nurture has continued to stir up controversy. Eugenics, for example, was a movement heavily influenced by the nativist approach.

Psychologist Francis Galton coined the terms 'nature versus nurture' and 'eugenics' and believed that intelligence resulted from genetics. Galton also felt that intelligent individuals should be encouraged to marry and have many children, while less intelligent individuals should be discouraged from reproducing.

The value placed on nature vs. nurture can even vary between the different branches of psychology , with some branches taking a more one-sided approach. In biopsychology , for example, researchers conduct studies exploring how neurotransmitters influence behavior, emphasizing the role of nature.

In social psychology , on the other hand, researchers might conduct studies looking at how external factors such as peer pressure and social media influence behaviors, stressing the importance of nurture. Behaviorism is another branch that focuses on the impact of the environment on behavior.

Nature vs. Nurture in Child Development

Some psychological theories of child development place more emphasis on nature and others focus more on nurture. An example of a nativist theory involving child development is Chomsky's concept of a language acquisition device (LAD). According to this theory, all children are born with an instinctive mental capacity that allows them to both learn and produce language.

An example of an empiricist child development theory is Albert Bandura's social learning theory . This theory says that people learn by observing the behavior of others. In his famous Bobo doll experiment , Bandura demonstrated that children could learn aggressive behaviors simply by observing another person acting aggressively.

Nature vs. Nurture in Personality Development

There is also some argument as to whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role in the development of one's personality. The answer to this question varies depending on which personality development theory you use.

According to behavioral theories, our personality is a result of the interactions we have with our environment, while biological theories suggest that personality is largely inherited. Then there are psychodynamic theories of personality that emphasize the impact of both.

Nature vs. Nurture in Mental Illness Development

One could argue that either nature or nurture contributes to mental health development. Some causes of mental illness fall on the nature side of the debate, including changes to or imbalances with chemicals in the brain. Genetics can also contribute to mental illness development, increasing one's risk of a certain disorder or disease.

Mental disorders with some type of genetic component include autism , attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder , major depression , and schizophrenia .

Other explanations for mental illness are environmental. This includes being exposed to environmental toxins, such as drugs or alcohol, while still in utero. Certain life experiences can also influence mental illness development, such as witnessing a traumatic event, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Nature vs. Nurture in Mental Health Therapy

Different types of mental health treatment can also rely more heavily on either nature or nurture in their treatment approach. One of the goals of many types of therapy is to uncover any life experiences that may have contributed to mental illness development (nurture).

However, genetics (nature) can play a role in treatment as well. For instance, research indicates that a person's genetic makeup can impact how their body responds to antidepressants. Taking this into consideration is important for getting that person the help they need.

Interaction Between Nature and Nurture

Which is stronger: nature or nurture? Many researchers consider the interaction between heredity and environment—nature with nurture as opposed to nature versus nurture—to be the most important influencing factor of all.

For example, perfect pitch is the ability to detect the pitch of a musical tone without any reference. Researchers have found that this ability tends to run in families and might be tied to a single gene. However, they've also discovered that possessing the gene is not enough as musical training during early childhood is needed for this inherited ability to manifest itself.

Height is another example of a trait influenced by an interaction between nature and nurture. A child might inherit the genes for height. However, if they grow up in a deprived environment where proper nourishment isn't received, they might never attain the height they could have had if they'd grown up in a healthier environment.

A newer field of study that aims to learn more about the interaction between genes and environment is epigenetics . Epigenetics seeks to explain how environment can impact the way in which genes are expressed.

Some characteristics are biologically determined, such as eye color, hair color, and skin color. Other things, like life expectancy and height, have a strong biological component but are also influenced by environmental factors and lifestyle.

Contemporary Views of Nature vs. Nurture

Most experts recognize that neither nature nor nurture is stronger than the other. Instead, both factors play a critical role in who we are and who we become. Not only that but nature and nurture interact with each other in important ways all throughout our lifespan.

As a result, many in this field are interested in seeing how genes modulate environmental influences and vice versa. At the same time, this debate of nature vs. nurture still rages on in some areas, such as in the origins of homosexuality and influences on intelligence .

While a few people take the extreme nativist or radical empiricist approach, the reality is that there is not a simple way to disentangle the multitude of forces that exist in personality and human development. Instead, these influences include genetic factors, environmental factors, and how each intermingles with the other.

Schoneberger T. Three myths from the language acquisition literature . Anal Verbal Behav . 2010;26(1):107-31. doi:10.1007/bf03393086

National Institutes of Health. Common genetic factors found in 5 mental disorders .

Pain O, Hodgson K, Trubetskoy V, et al. Identifying the common genetic basis of antidepressant response . Biol Psychiatry Global Open Sci . 2022;2(2):115-126. doi:10.1016/j.bpsgos.2021.07.008

Moulton C. Perfect pitch reconsidered . Clin Med J . 2014;14(5):517-9 doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.14-5-517

Levitt M. Perceptions of nature, nurture and behaviour . Life Sci Soc Policy . 2013;9:13. doi:10.1186/2195-7819-9-13

Bandura A, Ross D, Ross, SA. Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models . J Abnorm Soc Psychol. 1961;63(3):575-582. doi:10.1037/h0045925

Chomsky N. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax .

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Watson JB. Behaviorism .

By Kendra Cherry Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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Nature vs. Nurture Debate in Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Educator, Researcher

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Olivia Guy-Evans

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons), Psychology, MSc, Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Key Takeaways

The nature-nurture debate is concerned with the relative contribution that both influences make to human behavior, such as personality, cognitive traits, temperament and psychopathology.

In This Article

Nativism (Extreme Nature Position)

It has long been known that certain physical characteristics are biologically determined by genetic inheritance.

Color of eyes, straight or curly hair, pigmentation of the skin, and certain diseases (such as Huntingdon’s chorea) are all a function of the genes we inherit.

eye color genetics

These facts have led many to speculate as to whether psychological characteristics such as behavioral tendencies, personality attributes, and mental abilities are also “wired in” before we are even born.

Those who adopt an extreme hereditary position are known as nativists.  Their basic assumption is that the characteristics of the human species as a whole are a product of evolution and that individual differences are due to each person’s unique genetic code.

In general, the earlier a particular ability appears, the more likely it is to be under the influence of genetic factors. Estimates of genetic influence are called heritability.

Examples of extreme nature positions in psychology include Chomsky (1965), who proposed language is gained through the use of an innate language acquisition device. Another example of nature is Freud’s theory of aggression as being an innate drive (called Thanatos).

Characteristics and differences that are not observable at birth, but which emerge later in life, are regarded as the product of maturation. That is to say, we all have an inner “biological clock” which switches on (or off) types of behavior in a pre-programmed way.

The classic example of the way this affects our physical development are the bodily changes that occur in early adolescence at puberty.

However, nativists also argue that maturation governs the emergence of attachment in infancy , language acquisition , and even cognitive development .

Empiricism (Extreme Nurture Position)

At the other end of the spectrum are the environmentalists – also known as empiricists (not to be confused with the other empirical / scientific approach ).

Their basic assumption is that at birth, the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience (e.g., behaviorism ).

From this point of view, psychological characteristics and behavioral differences that emerge through infancy and childhood are the results of learning.  It is how you are brought up (nurture) that governs the psychologically significant aspects of child development and the concept of maturation applies only to the biological.

For example, Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory states that aggression is learned from the environment through observation and imitation. This is seen in his famous bobo doll experiment (Bandura, 1961).

bobo doll experiment

Also, Skinner (1957) believed that language is learned from other people via behavior-shaping techniques.

Evidence for Nature

Freud (1905) stated that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. He thought that parenting is of primary importance to a child’s development , and the family as the most important feature of nurture was a common theme throughout twentieth-century psychology (which was dominated by environmentalists’ theories).

Behavioral Genetics

Researchers in the field of behavioral genetics study variation in behavior as it is affected by genes, which are the units of heredity passed down from parents to offspring.

“We now know that DNA differences are the major systematic source of psychological differences between us. Environmental effects are important but what we have learned in recent years is that they are mostly random – unsystematic and unstable – which means that we cannot do much about them.” Plomin (2018, xii)

Behavioral genetics has enabled psychology to quantify the relative contribution of nature and nurture with regard to specific psychological traits. One way to do this is to study relatives who share the same genes (nature) but a different environment (nurture). Adoption acts as a natural experiment which allows researchers to do this.

Empirical studies have consistently shown that adoptive children show greater resemblance to their biological parents, rather than their adoptive, or environmental parents (Plomin & DeFries, 1983; 1985).

Another way of studying heredity is by comparing the behavior of twins, who can either be identical (sharing the same genes) or non-identical (sharing 50% of genes). Like adoption studies, twin studies support the first rule of behavior genetics; that psychological traits are extremely heritable, about 50% on average.

The Twins in Early Development Study (TEDS) revealed correlations between twins on a range of behavioral traits, such as personality (empathy and hyperactivity) and components of reading such as phonetics (Haworth, Davis, Plomin, 2013; Oliver & Plomin, 2007; Trouton, Spinath, & Plomin, 2002).


Jenson (1969) found that the average I.Q. scores of black Americans were significantly lower than whites he went on to argue that genetic factors were mainly responsible – even going so far as to suggest that intelligence is 80% inherited.

The storm of controversy that developed around Jenson’s claims was not mainly due to logical and empirical weaknesses in his argument. It was more to do with the social and political implications that are often drawn from research that claims to demonstrate natural inequalities between social groups.

For many environmentalists, there is a barely disguised right-wing agenda behind the work of the behavioral geneticists.  In their view, part of the difference in the I.Q. scores of different ethnic groups are due to inbuilt biases in the methods of testing.

More fundamentally, they believe that differences in intellectual ability are a product of social inequalities in access to material resources and opportunities.  To put it simply children brought up in the ghetto tend to score lower on tests because they are denied the same life chances as more privileged members of society.

Now we can see why the nature-nurture debate has become such a hotly contested issue.  What begins as an attempt to understand the causes of behavioral differences often develops into a politically motivated dispute about distributive justice and power in society.

What’s more, this doesn’t only apply to the debate over I.Q.  It is equally relevant to the psychology of sex and gender , where the question of how much of the (alleged) differences in male and female behavior is due to biology and how much to culture is just as controversial.

Polygenic Inheritance

Rather than the presence or absence of single genes being the determining factor that accounts for psychological traits, behavioral genetics has demonstrated that multiple genes – often thousands, collectively contribute to specific behaviors.

Thus, psychological traits follow a polygenic mode of inheritance (as opposed to being determined by a single gene). Depression is a good example of a polygenic trait, which is thought to be influenced by around 1000 genes (Plomin, 2018).

This means a person with a lower number of these genes (under 500) would have a lower risk of experiencing depression than someone with a higher number.

The Nature of Nurture

Nurture assumes that correlations between environmental factors and psychological outcomes are caused environmentally. For example, how much parents read with their children and how well children learn to read appear to be related. Other examples include environmental stress and its effect on depression.

However, behavioral genetics argues that what look like environmental effects are to a large extent really a reflection of genetic differences (Plomin & Bergeman, 1991).

People select, modify and create environments correlated with their genetic disposition. This means that what sometimes appears to be an environmental influence (nurture) is a genetic influence (nature).

So, children that are genetically predisposed to be competent readers, will be happy to listen to their parents read them stories, and be more likely to encourage this interaction.

Interaction Effects

However, in recent years there has been a growing realization that the question of “how much” behavior is due to heredity and “how much” to the environment may itself be the wrong question.

Take intelligence as an example. Like almost all types of human behavior, it is a complex, many-sided phenomenon which reveals itself (or not!) in a great variety of ways.

The “how much” question assumes that psychological traits can all be expressed numerically and that the issue can be resolved in a quantitative manner.

Heritability statistics revealed by behavioral genetic studies have been criticized as meaningless, mainly because biologists have established that genes cannot influence development independently of environmental factors; genetic and nongenetic factors always cooperate to build traits. The reality is that nature and culture interact in a host of qualitatively different ways (Gottlieb, 2007; Johnston & Edwards, 2002).

Instead of defending extreme nativist or nurturist views, most psychological researchers are now interested in investigating how nature and nurture interact.

For example, in psychopathology , this means that both a genetic predisposition and an appropriate environmental trigger are required for a mental disorder to develop. For example, epigenetics state that environmental influences affect the expression of genes.

nature vs nurture debate arguments

So what is epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the term used to describe inheritance by mechanisms other than through the DNA sequence of genes. For example, features of a person’s physical and social environment can effect which genes are switched-on, or “expressed”, rather than the DNA sequence of the genes themselves.

One such example is what is known as the Dutch Hunger Winter, during last year of the Second World War. What they found was that children who were in the womb during the famine experienced a life-long increase in their chances of developing various health problems compared to children conceived after the famine.

Epigenetic effects can sometimes be passed from one generation to the next, although the effects only seem to last for a few generations. There is some evidence that the effects of the Dutch Hunger Winter affected grandchildren of women who were pregnant during the famine.

Therefore, it makes more sense to say that the difference between two people’s behavior is mostly due to hereditary factors or mostly due to environmental factors.

This realization is especially important given the recent advances in genetics, such as polygenic testing.  The Human Genome Project, for example, has stimulated enormous interest in tracing types of behavior to particular strands of DNA located on specific chromosomes.

If these advances are not to be abused, then there will need to be a more general understanding of the fact that biology interacts with both the cultural context and the personal choices that people make about how they want to live their lives.

There is no neat and simple way of unraveling these qualitatively different and reciprocal influences on human behavior.

Epigenetics: The Agouti Mouse Study

Waterland and Jirtle’s (2003) Agouti Mouse Study examines the relationship between nature and nurture, showing how epigenetic mechanisms change gene expression lab mice and, by extension, human beings.

The video below provides context for the Agouti Mouse Study, and outlines the development of an epigenetic approach to our understanding of disease.

Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology , 63, 575-582

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory . Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss . New York: Basic Books.

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax . MIT Press.

Freud, S. (1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality . Se, 7.

Galton, F. (1883). Inquiries into human faculty and its development . London: J.M. Dent & Co.

Gottlieb, G. (2007). Probabilistic epigenesis.   Developmental Science, 10 , 1–11.

Haworth, C. M., Davis, O. S., & Plomin, R. (2013). Twins Early Development Study (TEDS): a genetically sensitive investigation of cognitive and behavioral development from childhood to young adulthood . Twin Research and Human Genetics, 16(1) , 117-125.

Jensen, A. R. (1969). How much can we boost I.Q. and scholastic achievement? Harvard Educational Review, 33 , 1-123.

Johnston, T. D., & Edwards, L. (2002). Genes, interactions, and the development of behavior . Psychological Review , 109, 26–34.

Oliver, B. R., & Plomin, R. (2007). Twins” Early Development Study (TEDS): A multivariate, longitudinal genetic investigation of language, cognition and behavior problems from childhood through adolescence . Twin Research and Human Genetics, 10(1) , 96-105.

Plomin, R. (2018). Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are . MIT Press.

Plomin, R., & Bergeman, C. S. (1991). The nature of nurture: Genetic influence on “environmental” measures. behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14(3) , 373-386.

Plomin, R., & DeFries, J. C. (1983). The Colorado adoption project. Child Development , 276-289.

Plomin, R., & DeFries, J. C. (1985). The origins of individual differences in infancy; the Colorado adoption project. Science, 230 , 1369-1371.

Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior . Acton, MA: Copley Publishing Group.

Trouton, A., Spinath, F. M., & Plomin, R. (2002). Twins early development study (TEDS): a multivariate, longitudinal genetic investigation of language, cognition and behavior problems in childhood . Twin Research and Human Genetics, 5(5) , 444-448.

Waterland, R. A., & Jirtle, R. L. (2003). Transposable elements: targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation . Molecular and cellular biology, 23 (15), 5293-5300.

Further Information

Evidence for Nurture

Evidence for an Interaction

Nature vs. Nurture


The nature versus nurture debate is about the relative influence of an individual's innate attributes as opposed to the experiences from the environment one is brought up in, in determining individual differences in physical and behavioral traits. The philosophy that humans acquire all or most of their behavioral traits from "nurture" is known as tabula rasa ("blank slate").

In recent years, both types of factors have come to be recognized as playing interacting roles in development. So several modern psychologists consider the question naive and representing an outdated state of knowledge . The famous psychologist, Donald Hebb, is said to have once answered a journalist's question of "Which, nature or nurture, contributes more to personality?" by asking in response, "Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?"

Comparison chart

Nature vs. nurture in the iq debate.

Evidence suggests that family environmental factors may have an effect upon childhood IQ, accounting for up to a quarter of the variance. On the other hand, by late adolescence this correlation disappears, such that adoptive siblings are no more similar in IQ than strangers. Moreover, adoption studies indicate that, by adulthood, adoptive siblings are no more similar in IQ than strangers (IQ correlation near zero), while full siblings show an IQ correlation of 0.6. Twin studies reinforce this pattern: monozygotic (identical) twins raised separately are highly similar in IQ (0.86), more so than dizygotic (fraternal) twins raised together (0.6) and much more than adoptive siblings (almost 0.0). Consequently, in the context of the "nature versus nurture" debate, the "nature" component appears to be much more important than the "nurture" component in explaining IQ variance in the general adult population of the United States .

The TEDx Talk below, featuring renowned entomologist Gene Robinson , discusses how the science of genomics strongly suggests both nature and nurture actively affect genomes, thus playing important roles in development and social behavior:

Nature vs. Nurture in Personality Traits

Personality is a frequently-cited example of a heritable trait that has been studied in twins and adoptions. Identical twins reared apart are far more similar in personality than randomly selected pairs of people. Likewise, identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins. Also, biological siblings are more similar in personality than adoptive siblings. Each observation suggests that personality is heritable to a certain extent.

However, these same study designs allow for the examination of environment as well as genes. Adoption studies also directly measure the strength of shared family effects. Adopted siblings share only family environment. Unexpectedly, some adoption studies indicate that by adulthood the personalities of adopted siblings are no more similar than random pairs of strangers. This would mean that shared family effects on personality wane off by adulthood. As is the case with personality, non-shared environmental effects are often found to out-weigh shared environmental effects. That is, environmental effects that are typically thought to be life-shaping (such as family life) may have less of an impact than non-shared effects, which are harder to identify.

Moral Considerations of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

nature vs nurture debate arguments

Some observers offer the criticism that modern science tends to give too much weight to the nature side of the argument, in part because of the potential harm that has come from rationalized racism. Historically, much of this debate has had undertones of racist and eugenicist policies — the notion of race as a scientific truth has often been assumed as a prerequisite in various incarnations of the nature versus nurture debate. In the past, heredity was often used as "scientific" justification for various forms of discrimination and oppression along racial and class lines. Works published in the United States since the 1960s that argue for the primacy of "nature" over "nurture" in determining certain characteristics, such as The Bell Curve, have been greeted with considerable controversy and scorn. A recent study conducted in 2012 has come up with the verdict that racism, after all, isn't innate.

A critique of moral arguments against the nature side of the argument could be that they cross the is-ought gap. That is, they apply values to facts. However, such appliance appears to construct reality. Belief in biologically determined stereotypes and abilities has been shown to increase the kind of behavior that is associated with such stereotypes and to impair intellectual performance through, among other things, the stereotype threat phenomenon.

The implications of this are brilliantly illustrated by the implicit association tests (IATs) out of Harvard . These, along with studies of the impact of self-identification with either positive or negative stereotypes and therefore "priming" good or bad effects, show that stereotypes, regardless of their broad statistical significance, bias the judgements and behaviours of members and non-members of the stereotyped groups.


Being gay is now considered a genetic phenomenon rather than being influenced by the environment. This is based on observations such as:

More recent studies have indicated that both gender and sexuality are spectrums rather than strictly binary choices.


Genetics is a complex and evolving field. A relatively newer idea in genetics is the epigenome . Changes happen to DNA molecules as other chemicals attach to genes or proteins in a cell. These changes constitute the epigenome. The epigenome regulates activity of cells by "turning genes off or on", i.e., by regulating which genes are expressed. This is why even though all cells have the same DNA (or genome), some cells grow into brain cells while others turn into liver and others into skin.

Epigenetics suggests a model for how the environment (nurture) may affect an individual by regulating the genome (nature). More information about epigenetics can be found here .

Philosophical Considerations of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

Are the traits real.

It is sometimes a question whether the "trait" being measured is even a real thing. Much energy has been devoted to calculating the heritability of intelligence (usually the I.Q., or intelligence quotient), but there is still some disagreement as to what exactly "intelligence" is.

Determinism and Free Will

If genes do contribute substantially to the development of personal characteristics such as intelligence and personality, then many wonder if this implies that genes determine who we are. Biological determinism is the thesis that genes determine who we are. Few , if any, scientists would make such a claim; however, many are accused of doing so.

Others have pointed out that the premise of the "nature versus nurture" debate seems to negate the significance of free will. More specifically, if all our traits are determined by our genes, by our environment, by chance , or by some combination of these acting together, then there seems to be little room for free will. This line of reasoning suggests that the "nature versus nurture" debate tends to exaggerate the degree to which individual human behavior can be predicted based on knowledge of genetics and the environment. Furthermore, in this line of reasoning, it should also be pointed out that biology may determine our abilities, but free will still determines what we do with our abilities.

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Fraternal Twins vs Identical Twins

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Comments: Nature vs Nurture

Anonymous comments (5).

October 10, 2012, 8:50am Somewhere, someone has to be scratching their head and saying...what about free will? What about man's ability to reason? Nature and nurture do not complete the picture. They are influences, but we should not reduce the human mind and spirit to such base concepts. — 69.✗.✗.87
September 13, 2012, 1:25pm we were assigned to be on the "nature" side, to defend it. and the information I got from here made me "encouraged" to win on our debate, and has provided me a chance of having a high grade tomorrow. thanks.. — 109.✗.✗.162
February 28, 2013, 7:28pm nature all the way — 170.✗.✗.19
June 18, 2009, 1:54pm we were assigned to be on the "nature" side, to defend it. and the information I got from here made me "encouraged" to win on our debate, and has provided me a chance of having a high grade tomorrow. thanks.. — 124.✗.✗.255
May 9, 2014, 2:03pm Nurture an nature can change becose it is unchangeble to the personality. — 141.✗.✗.231

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Nature vs. Nurture Debate

nature vs nurture debate arguments

The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about whether human culture, behavior, and personality are caused primarily by nature or nurture.

Nature is often defined in this debate as genetic or hormone-based behaviors, traits, and dispositions, while nurture is most commonly defined as environment, culture, and experience.

History of the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

The nature vs. nurture debate is an ongoing one. The modern debate often centers around the effect genes have on human disposition as opposed to the influences that early environment and development might have. As culture changes, so have popular understandings of this debate. In the 1960s, for example, psychologists—and pop culture in general—were heavily influenced by the theories of behaviorism . This theory led to the widespread belief that human personality is primarily influenced by experience and training. It was during this time that researcher John Money attempted to demonstrate that gender was a product of early conditioning by raising a boy, whose circumcision was botched, as a girl. His experiment seemed successful in the beginning but ultimately was a failure.

In recent years, the nature side of the debate has gained more attention, with headlines trumpeting newly discovered genes for virtually every behavior. Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology are two branches of science that attempt to demonstrate the evolutionary roots of human behavior. Books authored by scientists in these fields are extremely popular. However, critics still emphasize the important role of early childhood environment, development, and cultural influences. Many have argued that sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are deterministic pseudosciences.

Twin and Identical Twin Studies

Several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics, sexual orientation, and religiosity. The bond between identical twins was also suggested to be genetic by these studies, as 80% of identical twins reported that they felt closer to their twin than they did to their closest friends, despite having just met their twin.

One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart.

How Nature Affects Mental Health

While nature, or genetics, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic. Nature, or genetics and disposition, has been proven to be an important factor in the development of some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia , bipolar , and major depression . Bipolar, for example, is four to six times more likely to develop when there is a family history of the condition. However, although the importance of genetic factors cannot be denied, the development of mental illness is not entirely genetic. For example, identical twins share their genes, yet if one twin develops schizophrenia, research shows the other twin only has a 50% chance of also developing the condition. This indicates that nature, while it plays an important part, is not the only contributing factor.

Another area where researchers may place more emphasis on nature than on nurture is that of addictions . Research indicates that alcohol addiction, for example, can recur in families and that certain genes may influence how alcohol tastes and the way it affects the body.

How Nurture Affects Mental Health

Certain genetic factors may create a predisposition for a particular illness, but the probability that a person develops that illness depends in part on environment (nurture). When a genetic variant indicates the possibility of developing a mental illness, this information can be used to direct positive (nurturing) behavior in such a way that the condition may not develop or may develop with less severity.

James Fallon, a neuroscientist who discovered that he had the brain of a psychopath, has stated that he believes growing up in a nurturing and loving environment helped him become a successful adult and may have been effective at preventing him from fully developing traits of psychopathy. Similarly, the basis for addiction is not thought to be entirely genetic by most researchers. Environmental aspects, such as the habits of parents, friends, or a partner, might also be significant factors contributing to the development of an addiction. A genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction may be far more significant if one is routinely exposed to binge drinking or other forms of alcohol abuse and comes to view this as normal alcohol use.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool recently found that while a family history of mental health conditions was the second strongest predictor of mental illness, the strongest predictor was in fact life events and experiences, such as childhood bullying , abuse , or other trauma. This supports the idea that nurture plays significant role in the development of mental health issues.

Nature vs. Nurture in Therapy

Twin toddlers stand next to each other, playing with a dandelion

For example, using medication to treat a mental health issue may be a primarily nature-based approach, while behavioral therapy, which stems from behaviorist psychology, addresses a person’s upbringing and conditioning and takes a nurture-based point of view. Meanwhile, therapies based in cognitive psychology may be more likely to address the effects of both nature and nurture.

It is possible to find a therapist who takes a more nature or nurture-based approach to treatment. However, many therapists today consider multiple factors, including how the nature and nurture work together, during a session.

How Nature and Nurture Interact

Many scientists eschew the nature vs. nurture debate by emphasizing “nature x nurture.” In this schema, nature and nurture are inseparable. Some genes, for example, cannot be activated without certain environmental inputs. The development of vision is a prime example of this. People cannot develop normal sight without exposure to visual stimuli.

Similarly, some environmental inputs may be undermined by some genes. For example, some lifelong smokers may never experience smoking-related illnesses, and this may be due at least in part to their genes. Environmental toxins may alter the expression of some genes, and genes for many behaviors presumed to have a genetic basis have not been discovered.

Developmental systems theory, among other theories, presents an alternative to this debate that does not require scientists to advocate either for nature or nurture.


Last Updated: 09-28-2018

nature vs nurture debate arguments

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You probably mean this:

In recent years, the “NATURE” side of the debate has gained more attention, with popular headlines trumpeting newly-discovered genes for virtually every behavior.

Genes relate to nature, and in this sentence, it means that genes affect behavior. Therefore, nature affects behavior.

Correct me if I’m wrong though. Great article!

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Who wrote this i need it for a citation

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The GoodTherapy.org Team

Hi Smart boy,

Thanks for visiting GoodTherapy. There is no named author — the author of this page is simply “GoodTherapy.” I would recommend asking your professor or faculty how they would like you to cite a website with no named author.

Kind regards, The GoodTherapy Team

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I think they both genes and environment are very important to our development. Our environment is able to trigger molecular changes and therefore gene expression varies, but our genes may limit that as well. I think it is something you can’t have a general rule for, first of all because of the number of environments, not only that but also the genetic differences we each hold.It’s a great article on a great topic.

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Virginia W.

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Karen Dale Dungo

“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 – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.” – John B. Watson

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Chandler Nielsen

the topic of nature versus nurture has always fascinated me, I am adopted so I find I am often trying to pick at myself and see what I inherited psychologically through genetics and what I picked up from learning behaviors I was raised around.

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This is awesome

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Peter of Narnia

Sup homies?

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I am oil, sirdoil, manoil, goodes

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A good scientific discussion. Really nature vs nurture has become a big discussion topic for parents and also for scientists. I personally feel a striking balance between the two is important to lead a successful life. Your child will be gifted with some good genetic traits but good habits and mindset to succeed in every situation, needs to be embedded within your child through your actions. So, preach what you say and do, along with giving your child time, knowledge, and confidence that your child is special and can do anything. In the same way a billionaire Mark Zuckerberg was raised by his father Edward. We all want our child to be successful like him.

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Sure genes effect a lot of behaviors but are they the most important contributing factor. In most behaviors they are not. If genetics was the biggest contributing factor we would not have different cultures. In acient greek and roman cultures homosexual sex was common place and was viewed as a purer form of sex than straight sex. (sexual orientation might be predetermined however the behavior is not even in such a strong drive as sexual drive. ) If we can be behaviorally conditioned to abstain from sex (and food and water , during prolonged fasts Eating is genetically programmed into all of us. ) We can be conditioned to form all sorts of strange behaviors (Hence the cultural differences) Different cultures cannot be a genetic link because scientifically speaking “races” do not exist. And neither do ethnicities. If it was all predominantly determined by nature we wouldnt have different cultures. (or in fact poor people would be more violent, rich people wouldnt correlate with higher IQ which they do. etc Examples are endless )

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Nurture DUH!

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who wrote this article?

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Hello Billy,

Thank you for your comment. GoodTherapy.org staff members wrote this article.

Kind regards, The GoodTherapy.org Team

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When was this article published?

This article was last updated on 08-12-2015.

Kind regards,

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How would I site this article?

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We emailed you some instructions on how to cite articles like this one in APA style.

Best regards, The Editorial Team GoodTherapy.org

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Would you please send me the way to cite this also?

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Hi Nancy, Because this page has no single author and is regularly revisited and revised, this is how you would cite it:

Nature vs. nurture debate. (2015, August 12). Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/nature-versus-nurture

We created this using the latest guidelines from APA on how to cite a web page without an author (see here: apastyle.org/learn/faqs/web-page-no-author.aspx). Only the date may change in the future when we update the page.

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How would i cite this article?

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Jennifer F.

Hi,great article. I am new to the site, and am subscribing to the newsletter. Can you please email me how to site this article in a paper I’m writing ? Thanks and have a blessed day.

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How do you cite this APA format?

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How do i cite this page in an APA style format when trying to reference it?

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how will i cite this article?

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Excuse me but how could I be able to cite this article?

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how do i cite this article? who is the author

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Hi, how will I site this in APA?

Thanks for thinking of us and including us in your research. Since some of you have asked how to cite this in APA style, we’d like share a simple citation to help your efforts. Because this page has no single author and is regularly revisited and revised, this is how you would cite it:

This citation was created using the latest guidelines from APA on how to cite a web page without an author (see here: apastyle.org/learn/faqs/web-page-no-author.aspx). The only thing that would change would be the date, which will change when we update the page in the future.

We hope that helps everyone!

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How do i cite this ?

Hi Skylar, Thanks for your interest! Please see the comment thread above where we have responded to other requests to cite this page.

Best wishes, The GoodTherapy.org Team

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How do I cite this article in MLA 8. I am only missing the author and the publisher.

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This is an article that anyone could benefit from,like many other people I agree environment plays a big part how that person will succeed in life! Example I grew up in Romania during the Communism many people had to adapt to that environment the outcome was obvious for people that disagreed with that way of life, so consequences had occurred! When you grow up in a great family with good influences children have a positive outcome, what about the choices you make that will also have an impact regardless of the environment/nature/nurture! My family emigrated to Us which completely changed environment so all of us had to adapt even though we had known a very controlled environment! So here we are our behaviors are influenced by environment and choices we make! Nature has a great influence the way we behave also the animals as well as the plants are adapting accordingly! So should we try to change the environment and nature? I believe nature wins! Nurture has also influenced us! How much nature and environment contribute to the kind of life in adulthood! DNA also plays a role in the way we behave with certain traits and characteristics according to the environmental conditions! Nature and Nurture work together we relate to both with choices we make and degree of adaptation we have! Interesting subject with great possible debates and future choices!

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It’s wonderful that you are getting thoughts from this article as well as from our dialogue made at this time.

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Great informational and well-written article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how mental illness is affected by both nature and nurture and how each plays a role in determining the progression of a specific mental illness. I want to thank you for writing and sharing your article!

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Well expounded and clarified article.

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This article helped me a lot with my paper thank you but who is the author of this article

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Amazing document!!!

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Nature over nurture. Who taught the first human if not nature? We have all been fed the same information learned from trail and error since the dawn of human race. Therefore we all learned from nature; indirectly, and directly. Thank you for reading

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I found this article to be very confusing could you explain more

Several studies done on twins separated shortly after birth reveal that genetics do play a significant role in the development of certain personality characteristics, sexual orientation, and religiosity. The bond between identical twins was also suggested to be genetic by these studies, as 80% of identical twins reported that they felt closer to their twin than they did to their closest friends, despite having just met their twin. One study also suggested that genetics play a significant role in the development of personality: Environment had little effect on personality when twins were raised together, though it did have an effect when they were raised apart mainly the last sentence.

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Is this a peer reviewed article?

Thank you for your comment. This is not a peer-reviewed article.

Kind regards, The Editorial Team

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I feel that this was a very interesting article because I really enjoy learning about child development, and there were many sources with scientific backing. I find it interesting that there is still so much debate surrounding these concepts of development.

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Who is the author of this article?

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Hi Johnathan, Thank you for taking the time to comment. As mentioned above, GoodTherapy.org staff members wrote this article. Please refer to previous comment chains that also include information on how to cite this page in APA style. Warm regards, The GoodTherapy.org Team

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Hi sorry when was this page last updated

Thank you for your comment, Natasha. This page was last updated on 08/12/2015.

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Who is the author of this?

Hello Nancy! Thank you for your question. There is no named author — the author of this page is simply “GoodTherapy.org.”

I hope this is helpful! If you have any questions about this or anything else, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 2.

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Great article. In my opinion, I think nature and nurture work together rather than one playing a bigger role than the other.

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i think this is a good article i think nature over nurture because most of the things in our life comes from nature and everything.

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Hi GoodTherapy, How would i cite this using MLA8?

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Hi, Brandan! We’re happy to hear you’re finding our blog to be a helpful resource! There is no named author — the author of this page is simply “GoodTherapy.” We would recommend asking your professor or faculty how they would like you to cite a website with no named author.

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Hey, can anyone tell me who wrote this,,,,,, I need to cite it! Thank you for your consideration =^_^= Kind regards, Shaggy

I’m happy to hear you’re finding our site to be a helpful resource! There is no named author — the author of this page is simply “GoodTherapy.” I would recommend asking your professor or faculty how they would like you to cite a website with no named author.

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Interesting article!

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Interesting that a healthy family environment can have a dramatic affect on personality.

Interesting article

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What social benefits does nature provide when it comes to this debate?

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As counselors what are some of your perspective on Nature and Nurture ?

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I think ones environment and genetics go hand in hand. Like in a family two sisters are raised in the same environment but they have received different genes from the parents so they are different on how they relate to people and act.

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the article was very helpful.

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Please year was this written

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Hi Cynthia! It first went live on August 31, 2012.

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I have known several sets of twins. I also have twin and they are very close to each other. The female twin has always been a mother to the boy twin and very protective . She also would help him with homework and try to answer questions for him in school. They are very connected.

Our culture today effects all of us especially our children. I think Our experiences influences our behavior.

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How many times was this revised/edited?

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I strongly believe that our environment plays a more important role in our up bringing, a child being locked away from birth in a dark room without food for 3 years will not grow like a child that was exposed to the environment, genetics will not win the, traits will not win so despite what we were born with the environment ( nurture ) must be present for all of these that we were born with to express its self or it will be null.

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So I’m in psychology right now and I’m having to right a discussion on Nature vs Nurture debate and what our opinion about rather if we get our personality bass on nature or nurture? And as for me I’ve been in the medical field for over 20 Years and I would have bass my opinion directly on nature, but after reading this article and the examples I’ve changed my mind totally. Now I’m going with nature and nurture. This is one of the best written and very informational and lots of facts on the debate on nature vs nurture debate. As humans we learn in every way rather if we’re taught by our parents or out in the world. So I get it why there is a debate about it. I’m so very happy to have had chose your website to read and to gain more knowledge about this theory and more about psychology. Thank you so very much I appreciate every bit of information that you provide. Thank so very much Lea

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I find it interesting to see how in some cases people were not raised in an environment with a characteristic yet this dna runs through generations and appears in another later in the blood line.

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It’s interesting to see how even though being raised in a different environment, people who share the same dna have similar interests.

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For me there’s a connection between nature and nurture. As stated in the article, sometimes a trait is hereditary however if a person is raised in a home in which that characteristic trait is not enhanced it is subdued.

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nature vs nurture debate arguments

Nature Vs Nurture Debate

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Can our genes explain our interests, personality, intelligence, and the choices we make in life? Should we care about how children are raised or are their outcomes in life already written in their genes?

The nature vs. nurture debate has been around since Ancient Greece when Plato and Aristotle disputed the origins of human behaviour. However, the development of genetics has gained a renewed interest in the scientific community and the eugenics community. Historically, the nature side of the debate has been weaponised to oppress minorities and justify systemic inequalities. We have come a long way since then, but where exactly are we now?

Finally, we'll discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the nature-nurture debate.

Nature Vs Nurture Debate, white chalk outline of a brain hovering above a hand, StudySmarter

Nature vs Nurture Debate Definition

The nature vs nurture debate in psychology is concerned with the formation of a person's characteristics and behaviour. Historically, the debate has taken an either-or approach; who we are is either shaped by our genes or our upbringing, it is either natural or it is nurture that shapes who we are.

Let's consider the two extreme viewpoints. The views that stand towards the nature side of this spectrum are called nativists .

The nativist view attributes our behaviour and characteristics to genes and sees them as innate and shaped through evolution.

On the other side of the debate, we have the empiricist view. According to empiricism, we are born a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate), and our minds are shaped by experiences and knowledge as we grow up.

The empiricist view attributes our characteristics to experiences and learning.

Another more balanced position, the interactionist view, places itself in the middle of the two extremes.

The interactionist approach in the nature-nurture debate states that behaviour is shaped by the interaction between nature and nurture.

The two influences work together, mutually influencing each other. The approach also argues that there are different 'levels' of explanation (e.g. biological, cognitive or social) that must be considered when examining a particular behaviour.

Nature vs Nurture Debate Examples

The biological approach in psychology is often based on the nativist perspective. This approach proposes that our characteristics and patterns of behaviour are innate, they are caused by our genes, which have been passed onto us from our ancestors through the process of evolution. Behaviour and mental characteristics are viewed as hereditary.

One example of a nativist theory in psychology is Chomsky's Universal Grammar theory.

Chomsky claimed that children have an innate ability to understand different language categories, e.g., nouns or adjectives. He claimed that these categorisation abilities allow children to make sense of the grammar of any language. Supporters of this theory claim that language is too complex of an ability to acquire without built-in 'tools' to help us process it.

In psychology, the empiricist perspective is taken by the learning approach to understanding behaviour. The learning approach argues that behaviour actively evolves throughout our lives, either through direct interactions with the environment or by observing others that modelled certain behaviours for us. This view also rejects the possibility of behaviours being innate.

An example of an empiricist theory is behaviourism.

Behaviourism focuses on the impact of the environment on behaviour. It proposes that all behaviour develops through conditioning. Conditioning can occur either through association or reinforcements (rewards and punishment). In a nutshell, the environmental consequences of our behaviour will either weaken or strengthen our behaviours in the future.

The interactionist view in psychology recognises the importance of both biological and environmental correlates of behaviour, personality, and well-being. It is also interested in investigating how our genes can interact with our environment.

In psychology, this view is taken by the psychodynamic approach to understanding behaviour.

The psychodynamic approach , for example, posits that our behaviour is driven by innate instincts but also influenced by our development as well as experiences.

Many biological models of understanding mental health have changed to account for environmental factors as well, giving rise to interactionist models of mental illness.

The diathesis-stress model is an example of the interactionist approach . The model suggests that simply a genetic predisposition ('diathesis') is not enough; an external trigger ('stressor') is required to develop the condition. The model is used to understand the development of schizophrenia .

Nature vs Nurture Debate Psychology Research

How can we assess the degree to which nature and nurture influence a particular characteristic or behaviour? To understand how much genes contribute to a specific characteristic, we calculate heritability coefficients based on the data collected from family studies.

The heritability coefficient is a statistic which tells us how much variation in a trait can be attributed to genes on a population level. If a trait has high heritability, it means that individuals with similar genes will be more similar to this trait.

So, let's say that creativity is highly heritable, in this case, we would see people with similar genes (e.g. twins or family members) share similar creativity levels. If creativity had low heritability, we would see a broad variation in creativity among twins or family members.

Let's say that 60% of the variation in extraversion in society is accounted for by genes. This does not mean that 60% of your extraversion was accounted for by your genes. Individually, we differ greatly on these estimates.

How is Heritability Assessed?

Heritability estimates can be calculated using data from adoption studies or twin studies, which examine the similarity between individuals with different degrees of genetic relatedness.

A hypothetical study found that the musical talent of children adopted at birth was predicted by their biological parents' musical abilities, but did not correlate with the musicality of their adopted families. This suggests that musical talent is highly heritable, at least in the population studied.

A hypothetical twin study found that both identical and fraternal twin pairs share similar levels of tolerance for spicy foods. This suggests that tolerance for spicy foods is not highly heritable.

Can Nature Affect Nurture?

It can be difficult to separate nature and nurture influences in research, as genes can influence our behaviour indirectly by affecting our nurture.

Nature can influence nurture through reactive gene-environment interaction, or niche picking.

The behaviour we are genetically predisposed to can influence how others react to us, this way influencing our environment.

If a child has a genetic predisposition to be smart and comes from a wealthy background, they might be given more opportunities to develop from early on in their development. These opportunities can further develop their intellect.

These interactions were described by Plomin et al. (1977), who investigated nature-nurture interaction in family studies. They found this interaction could potentially bias gene-behaviour correlations obtained from family studies.

Further work done by Scarr and McCartney (1983) identified three ways that genes influence our behaviour indirectly, through our environment.

Niche picking refers to the tendency to seek environments in our life that complement our genetic traits.

People with good musical ears might seek environments where they can learn more about music.

Introverts can be drawn to quiet settings or activities that don't require too many social interactions, while people that have an innate tendency to be aggressive might look for environments where conflict is likely to occur.

Can Nurture Affect Nature?

The genome-environment interaction can also occur in the opposite direction.

Nurture can affect nature through the process of neural plasticity. The environment can also mediate the relationship between genes and behaviour.

One way that our experiences affect our biology is through neuroplasticity. The functioning of our nervous system and the structure of our brain can be affected by our experiences.

Maguire et al. (2003) found that the hippocampi of London taxi drivers were greater than the ones of controls. Hippocampus is a brain structure associated with spatial memory . The authors theorised that learning to navigate the London streets changed the drivers' brain structure.

An example of how the environment can mediate the influence of genes on psychological outcomes is provided by

Turkheimer et al. (2003), studied influences on intelligence in a sample of 7-year-old twins.

They found that the contribution of genes to intelligence in children varied depending on their socioeconomic status.

Turkheimer et al. (2003) found that the heritability of IQ in impoverished children was almost zero (0.01), while the in a sample of wealthy children heritability of IQ was very high (0.72).

Nature vs nurture debate, a young  man pointing upwards to lightbulbs drawn with chalk on a blackboard, StudySmarter

Nature vs nurture debate summary

Currently, it is recognised that both nature and nurture contribute to behaviour and that they can influence each other.

The family studies demonstrate that there are aspects of personality and behaviour that are heritable, as shown by heritability coefficients. We also have evidence of the role of nurture in some behaviours and individual traits, as the heritability of psychological traits in family studies is never 100%, indicating the presence of environmental influences.

We recognise that the contribution of each will also differ depending on the trait or behaviour. Moreover, as demonstrated in the above examples, t he two influences can interact through reactive gene-environment interactions, niche picking or neuroplasticity.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Nature Nurture Debate

Arguments for either of the three positions in the nature-nurture debate can be made based on empirical evidence supporting each of the positions.

However, taking on either one of the extreme approaches can be reductionistic, as they discard other potentially relevant levels of explanation and the interactions between nature and nurture.

Extreme positions can also be used to support harmful social policies or attitudes.

Nature Vs Nurture Debate - Key takeaways

Frequently Asked Questions about Nature Vs Nurture Debate

--> what is the nature vs nurture debate.

The nature vs nurture debate in psychology is concerned with the formation of a person's characteristics and behaviour, specifically whether they are shaped by genes or the environment.

--> How has the nature-nurture debate evolved?

The nature-nurture debate has evolved to recognise that nature and nurture can both shape behaviour. This approach is called the interactionist approach.

--> What does the nature-nurture debate propose?

The nature-nurture debate proposes that we are shaped either by our genes (nature) or environmental factors (nurture).

--> What is Nature Vs Nurture examples? 

The different approaches of understanding behaviour can be considered as an example of nature vs nurture. The biological approach tends to favour nature, while learning approaches favour nurture.

--> Why is nature nurture debate important? 

Understanding what shapes behaviour is important for designing effective behaviour change interventions, formation of psychological theories or even social policies.

--> Does aggression support the nature vs nurture debate?

The relationship between trauma and aggression in men is mediated by the MAOA gene. This suggests that aggression in men is influenced by both nature and nurture.

--> What is the general conclusion of the nature vs nurture debate?

Currently, it is recognised that both nature and nurture contribute to behaviour and that they can influence each other. The contribution of each will also differ depending on the trait or behaviour.

Final Nature Vs Nurture Debate Quiz

What is the nature-nurture debate in psychology?

Show answer

The nature-nurture debate in psychology concerns whether our characteristics, behaviour and personality are due to our genetics (nature) or our environment (nurture).

Show question

Is Chomsky's Universal Grammar Theory (1965) nativist or empiricist?

How does empiricism contrast with nativism?

Empiricism claims that our minds are a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate) at birth and that they are gradually filled with knowledge and experiences. These shape our behavior. On the other hand, nativism claims that our behaviour is innate and arises from our genes.

Which view in relation to the nature-nurture debate does the   diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia support?


How is Heritability Assessed? 

Heritability estimates can be calculated using data from adoption studies or twin studies.

A hypothetical twin study found that both identical and fraternal twin pairs share similar levels of artistic ability. What does this suggest?

This suggests that artistic ability is not highly heritable.

What is the name of the approach that suggests nature and nurture work together?

The interactionist approach.

What is an example of an interactionist psychological model?

The diathesis-stress model of schizophrenia.

What is the interactionist approach in psychology? 

The interactionist approach explains the development of psychological traits, disorders, and behaviour as a product of both biological and environmental influences.

Can nature and nurture influence each other?

Nature can influence nurture but nurture can't influence nature.

Which of these are examples of the interactionist approach in psychology?

Outline the Meehl's model of schizophrenia

In 1962 Meehl proposed a model, which explained schizophrenia as a result of the combination of having the schizophrenia gene (schizogene) and exposure to chronic stress in childhood (eg. being raised by a controlling and distant mother). 

Is schizophrenia a genetic disease?

Yes. Adoption studies suggest that schizophrenia is heritable (eg. Heston, 1966). Ripke  2014 found that s chizophrenia is a po lygenic disease, meaning it is influenced by variations of many genes. 

Are all people with some genetic vulnerabilities associated with schizophrenia at the same risk of developing the disorder?

No, the more genetic variations characteristic of the disorder a person has the more vulnerable they are to the disease, meaning they need fewer environmental stressors for the disorder to develop.

What factors other than genes can create vulnerability to schizophrenia?

Environmental factors, for example family dysfunction.

What are the three ways in which nature influences nurture, according to Scarr and McCartney (1983) ?

How can cannabis use affect people vulnerable to developing schizophrenia?

Cannabis use can trigger a psychotic episode, specially in people with high vulnerability.

What are the strengths of the interactionist approach?

The interactionist approach has greater  explanatory power than theories based only on nature or nurture influences. Combining various influences allows us to better predict individuals' traits. 

Moreover, it has important  implications for treatment of psychiatric disorders.

What are the implications of the diathesis-stress model on clinical practice?

Niche peaking is an example of ____ .

Nature influencing nurture.

The nature-nurture debate concerns the origins of psychological traits. The nature approach argues that biological factors determine psychological traits, while the nurture approach points to the environmental factors that shape who we are. 

What is behavioural genetics?

Behavioural genetics is the science of nature vs nurture influences. It investigates how much genes and the environment account for the variation in psychological traits.

What do family studies investigate?

Family studies investigate what is the correlation of the trait between individuals with different degrees of relatedness. 

What is the main method of studying environmental vs biological influences?

Family studies

What are the types of family studies?

Family studies include twin studies and adoption studies.

What do adoption studies investigate?

Adoption Studies investigate if adopted children, raised by the adopted family tend to share traits more with their biological family or the family that raised them. 

Therefore, adoption studies examine the impact of the environment on psychological characteristics. 

What does it mean if the behaviour of adopted children correlates more with their adopted family than their biological family?

It means the behaviour developed likely due to the influences of nurture rather than nature.

What does it mean if the behaviour in adopted children correlates more with the behaviour of their biological relatives but not adopted relatives?

It means the behaviour is likely determined by the influence of nature rather than nurture.

What are the limitations of adoption studies?

What do twin studies investigate?

Twin studies   examine similarities between monozygotic and dizygotic twins.

What proportion of their DNA do Monozygotic and Dizygotic twins share?

Monozygotic and dizygotic twins both share 50% of their DNA.

If a certain behaviour is on average more commonly shared between MZ twins but less likely to be shared by DZ twins, what does it tell us about the heritability of the behaviour?

It suggests that the behaviour is more heritable.

What are the limitations of twin studies?

How do twin studies assess heritability?

Twin studies use concordance rates to assess heritability. 

What were the findings of the Minnesota twin study?

Overall twins reared apart were just as similar in terms of personality, attitudes occupational and leisure interests as twins reared together indicating a high degree of heritability of those traits.

 It was concluded that genes strongly impact behaviour and account for 70% of the variance in intelligence.

What are the limitations of the Minnesota Twin Study?

The Minnesota twin study was criticised for not using a control group, adopting false assumptions about the sample as well as using invalid methods of calculating heritability.

The effects of trauma on antisocial behaviour in men are modulated by the activity of a specific gene. What view in relation to the nature nurture debate does this statement take?

What's the difference between nature and nurture? 

Nature refers to biological factors like genes and physiology, while nurture refers to environmental factors like upbringing or culture.

Define the nativist view of behaviour.

The nativist view attributes our behaviour and characteristics to genes and sees them as innate and shaped through evolution. 

True or False: The interactionist view of behaviour proposes that we are born a blank slate.

What are the limitations of taking an extreme approach to understanding behaviour in the nature-nurture debate?

Taking an extreme position can be considered reductionistic and support harmful social policies or attitudes.

How can nature affect nurture?

How can nurture affect nature?

Nurture can affect nature through the process of neural plasticity. Environment can also mediate the relationship between genes and behaviour. 

What are the three ways that genes influence our behaviour indirectly, according to Scarr and McCartney (1983)?

What is the heritability of IQ in children, according to the study of Turkheimer et al. (2003)?

Turkheimer et al. (2003) found that heritability estimates in children differ depending on their socio-economic status. T he heritability of IQ in impoverished children was almost zero (0.01), while the in a sample of wealthy children heritability of IQ was very high (0.72).  

What is a heritability coefficient?

Heritability coefficient is a statistic which tells us how much variation in a trait can be attributed to genes on a population level.

           studies investigate the correlation of the trait between individuals with different degrees of relatedness and include twin studies and adoption studies.

              genetics investigates how individuals vary in traits and how much genetics or the environment account for this variation.


Behavioural genetics is mainly investigated via...

family studies.

Adoption studies give us more insight into the role of nature and nurture, true or false? 

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More explanations about Issues and Debates in Psychology

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Nature vs. Nurture: How Are Personalities Formed?

Is it genetics or environment and experience that make us who we are.

Sarahwolfephotography / Getty Images

You got your green eyes from your mother and your freckles from your father—but where did you get your thrill-seeking personality and talent for singing? Did you learn these things from your parents or was it predetermined by your genes ? While it's clear that physical characteristics are hereditary, the genetic waters get a bit murkier when it comes to an individual's behavior, intelligence, and personality. Ultimately, the old argument of nature versus nurture has never really had a clear winner. While we don't really know how much of our personality is determined by our DNA and how much by our life experience, we do know that both play a part.

The "Nature vs. Nurture" Debate

The use of the terms "nature" and "nurture" as convenient catch-phrases for the roles of heredity and environment in human development can be traced back to 13th-century France. In simplest terms, some scientists believe people behave as they do according to genetic predispositions or even "animal instincts," which is known as the "nature" theory of human behavior, while others believe people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so. This is known as the "nurture" theory of human behavior.

Fast-growing understanding of the human genome has made it clear that both sides of the debate have merit. Nature endows us with inborn abilities and traits. Nurture takes these genetic tendencies and molds them as we learn and mature. End of story, right? Nope. The "nature vs. nurture" argument rages on as scientists debate how much of who we are is shaped by genetic factors and how much is a result of environmental factors.

The Nature Theory: Heredity

Scientists have known for years that traits such as eye color and hair color are determined by specific genes encoded in each human cell . The nature theory takes things a step further by suggesting that abstract traits such as intelligence, personality, aggression, and sexual orientation can also be encoded in an individual's DNA. The search for "behavioral" genes is the source of constant dispute as some fear that genetic arguments will be used to excuse criminal acts or justify antisocial behavior.

Perhaps the most controversial topic up for debate is whether or not there's such a thing as a "gay gene." Some argue that if such genetic coding does indeed exist, that would mean genes play at least some role in our sexual orientation .

In an April 1998 LIFE magazine article titled, "Were You Born That Way?" author George Howe Colt claimed that "new studies show it's mostly in your genes." However, the issue was far from settled. Critics pointed out that the studies on which the author and like-minded theorists based their findings used insufficient data and too narrow a definition of same-sex orientation. Later research, based on a more conclusive study of a broader population sample reached different conclusions, including a 2018 groundbreaking study (the largest of its kind do date) co-conducted by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Harvard Medical School in Boston that looked at the possible links of DNA and homosexual behavior.

This study determined that there were four genetic variables located on chromosomes seven, 11, 12, and 15, that do seem to have some correlation in same-sex attraction (two of these factors are specific only to males). However, in an October 2018 interview with Science , the study’s chief author, Andrea Ganna, denied the existence of a “gay gene” per se, explaining: “Rather, ‘nonheterosexuality’ is in part influenced by many tiny genetic effects.” Ganna went to say that researchers had yet to establish the correlation between the variants they’d identified and actual genes. “It’s an intriguing signal. We know almost nothing about the genetics of sexual behavior, so anywhere is a good place to start,” he admitted, however, the final takeaway was that the four genetic variants could not be relied on as predictors of sexual orientation.

The Nurture Theory: Environment

While not totally discounting that genetic tendency may exist, supporters of the nurture theory conclude that, ultimately, they don't matter. They believe our behavioral traits are defined solely by the environmental factors that affect our upbringing. Studies on infant and child temperament have revealed the most compelling arguments for the nurture theory.

American psychologist John Watson, a strong proponent of environmental learning, demonstrated that the acquisition of a phobia could be explained by classical conditioning. While at Johns Hopkins University , Watson conducted a series of experiments on a nine-month-old orphaned infant named Albert. Using methods similar to those employed by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov with dogs, Watson conditioned the baby to make certain associations based on paired stimuli. Every time the child was given a certain object, it was accompanied by a loud, frightening noise. Eventually, the child learned to associate the object with fear, whether the noise was present or not. The results of Watson's study were published in the February 1920 edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology .

" 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."

Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner's early experiments produced pigeons that could dance, do figure-eights, and play tennis. Today Skinner is known as the father of behavioral science . Skinner eventually went on to prove that human behavior could be conditioned in much the same way as animals .

Nature vs. Nurture in Twins

If genetics didn't play a part in the development of our personalities, then it follows that fraternal twins reared under the same conditions would be alike regardless of differences in their genes. Studies show, however, that while fraternal twins do more closely resemble one another than non-twin siblings, they also exhibit striking similarities when reared apart from the twin sibling, much in the same way that identical twins raised separately often grow up with many (but not all) similar personality traits.

If the environment doesn't play a part in determining an individual's traits and behaviors, then identical twins should, theoretically, be the same in all respects, even if reared separately. However, while studies show that identical twins are never exactly alike, they are remarkably similar in most respects. That said, in "Happy Families: A Twin Study of Humour," a 2000 study published by faculty at the Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology Unit at St. Thomas' Hospital in London, researchers concluded that a sense of humor is a learned trait influenced by family and cultural environment, rather than any genetic predetermination.

It's Not "Versus," It's "And"

So, is the way we behave ingrained before we're born, or does it develop over time in response to our experiences? Researchers on both sides of the "nature versus nurture" debate agree that the link between a gene and behavior is not the same as cause and effect. While a gene may increase the likelihood that you'll behave in a particular way, it does not ultimately predetermine behavior. So, rather than being a case of "either/or," it's likely that whatever personality we develop is due to a combination of both nature and nurture.

nature vs nurture debate arguments

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Nature vs. Nurture Examples: Common Issues in the Debate

nature vs nurture example intelligence

For centuries, the debate has existed within the psychological community and beyond concerning the topic of nature versus nurture in terms of human development and achievement. Specifically, what is the main influence on a person — their genetics or their environment? Discover some basic nature vs. nurture examples and consider your opinion.

Nature vs. Nurture Issues

While many contemporary psychologists and other individuals agree that development is influenced by both nature and nurture, the participation of genetics vs. environment is still a hot topic, particularly when certain subjects are discussed, such as intelligence, personality and homosexuality. There are many real-life examples of nature vs. nurture to consider.

Nature vs. Nurture: Intelligence

When someone achieves greatness thanks to an innovation or other breakthrough, it is usually agreed that the individual has a high level of intelligence. Often, when exploring the background of the individual, the influences of nature versus nurture are questioned.

How Nature May Impact Intelligence

Those who would argue that nature is largely to thank for the individual’s ability to achieve greatness might point to his or her parents and use their level of intelligence as a reason for why he or she is so successful. Perhaps the child developed early skills quickly and this would be used to show that the child was clearly, “born smart.”

How Nurture May Impact Intelligence

Those who would argue that a child's intelligence was affected by nurture would look at the child's educational background as well as how his or her parents raised him or her. These individuals would state that the intelligence level which permitted the child to be so successful is largely the result of the child's upbringing and the school system.

Nature vs. Nurture: Personality

The development of personality traits is often part of the nature versus nurture debate. People want to know how children develop their personalities.

How Nature May Impact Personality

Often it is easy to see similarities between a child’s personality and one or both of their parents’ personalities. In this situation, it would seem that the child's personality has developed largely from the influence of the parents' genes.

How Nurture May Impact Personality

In some situations, children develop personalities, or tendencies toward certain behaviors, such as shyness or aggression, that can’t seem to be explained because neither parent demonstrates the same trait. In this situation, it can be argued that nurture is at play in the development of the child's personality.

Nature vs. Nurture: Occupation Choice

There is much discussion regarding the role of nature versus nurture with regards to the occupation that an individual chooses to pursue.

How Nature May Impact Occupation

When children grow up to pursue occupations similar to their parents, some people seek to explain this by suggesting that a child may have the same innate talents as one or both of their parents. When the child of one or two professional athletes grows up to also become a professional athlete, that seems to indicate that nature may be at play.

How Nurture May Impact Occupation

Children do not always grow up to pursue occupations similar to their parents, even if they do inherit talent in a certain area. For example, someone who has two professional athletes as parents may want to pursue career goals that do not require so much extensive travel. The individual may opt out of a professional sports career in order to be more present at home for his or her own children as a result of having parents who traveled so much. In this case, nurture prevails over nature.

Nature vs. Nurture: Leisure Preferences

Does a person choose leisure activities based on a genetic predisposition or does nature have more of an impact?

How Nature May Impact Leisure Preferences

If a person was raised in a family where outdoor activities are the norm, is that individual destined to choose similar leisure activities as an adult? When people who were raised in an outdoorsy family go on to continue enjoying things like hiking, camping and gardening, some might use that to suggest that nature is at play.

How Nurture May Impact Leisure Preferences

Others might suggest that nurture is at play. Those who enjoyed outdoorsy activities in childhood and continue to do so as adults may choose that path because it's the one that they have firsthand experience with. People who didn't enjoy such activities as a child may go in a completely different direction as an adult. Being required to go camping as a child could lead to an aversion to such activities. In this case, nurture is definitely at play.

Nature vs. Nurture: Creativity

Are creative talents inherited, or does nurture play a significant role?

How Nature May Impact Creativity

Will a person whose parents are naturally very creative have the same talents? Is the child of a singer, dancer or artist destined to have natural talent in this area? Certainly there are child prodigies whose natural talents shine through with little nurture, but is this the norm?

How Nurture May Impact Creativity

A person with natural talent in a creative field still needs opportunities to learn, practice, grow and develop. Most people who have lovely singing voices still need vocal instruction, practice and performance experience to fulfill their potential. Natural talent often cannot develop without nurturing.

Nature vs. Nurture: Obesity

Are people sometimes destined to be obese simply because one or both parents were significantly overweight? Is this a nature issue or a nurture issue?

How Nature May Impact Obesity

If a person has one or more parents who have a medical condition that causes obesity, will the child naturally be obese? If the medical condition is genetic in nature and can be passed from parent to child, then nature could play a role in whether or not their child is destined to have obesity.

How Nurture May Impact Obesity

If a person is obese solely because of their diet and exercise habits, then that person's weight is due to their own behavior rather than a genetic cause. However, if the person's children are raised with the same diet and exercise habits, nurture could still result in obesity. If the children are active and follow a more healthy diet, though, they might not become obese.

Nature vs. Nurture: Criminal Behavior

Are some people born bad? Or do people develop criminal tendencies as a result of the environment in which they grow up.

How Nature May Impact Criminal Acts

Some people believe that a tendency to behave in a way that violates societal laws is something that people are born with. If the child of someone who is a convicted criminal also commits criminal acts, some argue that the outcome was inevitable due to the impact of nature.

How Nurture May Impact Criminal Acts

Not everyone who has a parent that has committed a crime goes on to commit criminal acts themselves. Seeing loved ones suffer consequences associated with criminal behavior can cause someone to vow never to commit a crime, which would impact that nurture has an impact on such behaviors. Additionally, not all people who commit criminal acts have parents or other relatives who have done the same.

Nature vs. Nurture: Homosexuality

The debate about homosexuality and whether it is the result of nature or nurture has spanned throughout history, but has taken on even greater importance in more recent years as the rights of these individuals are being hotly debated throughout the world.

How Nature May Impact Homosexuality

Some individuals believe that homosexuality is a biological factor, no more a choice than eye color or foot size. These individuals are debating from the perspective of nature being responsible for the development of the individual.

How Nurture May Impact Homosexuality

Some individuals believe that homosexuality is a choice. Others believe that it is the result of something having negatively affected an individual, such as sexual assault, causing the individual to become homosexual. These debates focus on the influence of nurture and the individuals feel that environmental factors are the cause of one’s homosexuality.

Learn More About Genetics

For every argument that suggests that nurture has more impact than nature, there are other arguments to the contrary. It seems that both nature and nurture can significantly impact human nature, human behavior and health outcomes. Now that you're familiar with a few ways that the nature vs. nurture debate plays out in real life, it's a good idea to further explore human behavior and genetics. Get started by reviewing some examples of genotype and phenotype .

What Is Nature vs. Nurture in Psychology?

nature vs nurture debate arguments

As a retired ultra-endurance triathlete turned medical writer, Chris brings the same passion and commitment to science-based journalism as he did to running, biking, and swimming extraordinary distances. 

nature vs nurture debate arguments

Michael MacIntyre, MD, is a board-certified general and forensic psychiatrist.

Contemporary Views

Frequently asked questions.

Nature vs. nurture is an age-old debate about whether genetics (nature) plays a bigger role in determining a person's characteristics than lived experience and environmental factors (nurture). The term "nature vs. nature" was coined by English naturalist Charles Darwin's younger half cousin, anthropologist Francis Galton, around 1875.

In psychology, the extreme nature position (nativism) proposes that intelligence and personality traits are inherited and determined only by genetics.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the extreme nurture position (empiricism) asserts that the mind is a blank slate at birth; external factors like education and upbringing determine who someone becomes in adulthood and how their mind works. Both of these extreme positions have shortcomings and are antiquated.

This article explores the difference between nature and nurture. It gives nature vs. nurture examples, and explains why outdated views of nativism and empiricism don't jibe with contemporary views. 

Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

In the context of nature vs. nurture, "nature" refers to genetics and heritable factors that are passed down to children from their biological parents.

Genes and hereditary factors determine many aspects of someone’s physical appearance and other individual characteristics, such as a genetically inherited predisposition for certain personality traits. Some studies suggest that about 50% of your personality and temperament is genetically determined.

However, the impact of gene-environment (or nature-nurture) interactions on someone's traits are interwoven, and the heritability of personality isn't always 50%. Trying to measure "nature vs. nurture" scientifically is messy. It's impossible to know precisely where the influence of genes and environment begin or end.

How Are Inherited Traits Measured?

“Heritability”   describes the influence that genes have on human characteristics and traits. It's measured on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0. Very strong heritable traits like someone's eye color are ranked a 1.0.

Traits that have nothing to do with genetics, like speaking with a regional accent, rank a zero. Most human characteristics score between a 0.30 and 0.60 on the heritability scale, which reflects a blend of genetics (nature) and environmental (nurture) factors.

Thousands of years ago, ancient Greek philosophers like Plato believed that "innate knowledge" is present in our minds at birth. Every parent knows that babies are born with innate characteristics. Anecdotally, it may seem like a kid's "Big 5" personality traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness) were predetermined before birth.

From a "nature" perspective, the fact that every child has innate traits at birth supports Plato's philosophical ideas about innatism. However, personality isn't set in stone. Environmental "nurture" factors can change someone's predominant personality traits over time. For example, being exposed to the chemical lead during childhood may alter personality.

In 2014, a meta-analysis of genetic and environmental influences on personality development across the human life span found that people change with age. Personality traits are relatively stable during early childhood but often change dramatically during adolescence and young adulthood.

It's impossible to know exactly how much "nurture" changes personality as people get older. In 2019, a study of how stable personality traits are from age 16 to 66 found that people's Big 5 traits are both stable and malleable (able to be molded). During the 50-year span from high school to retirement, some traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness tend to increase, while others appear to be set in stone.

Nurture refers to all of the external or environmental factors that affect human development such as how someone is raised, socioeconomic status, early childhood experiences, education, and daily habits.

Although the word "nurture" may conjure up images of babies and young children being cared for by loving parents, environmental factors and life experience have an impact on our psychological and physical well-being across the human life span. In adulthood, "nurturing" oneself by making healthy lifestyle choices can offset certain genetic predispositions.

For example, a May 2022 study found that people with a high genetic risk of developing the brain disorder Alzheimer's disease can lower their odds of developing dementia (a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, and social abilities enough to affect daily life) by adopting these seven healthy habits in midlife: staying active , healthy eating , losing weight , not smoking , reducing blood sugar , controlling cholesterol , and maintaining healthy blood pressure .

Nativism (Extreme Nature Position)

Innatism emphasizes nature's role in shaping our minds and personality traits before birth. Nativism takes this one step further and proposes that all of people's mental and physical characteristics are inherited and predetermined at birth.

In its extreme form, concepts of nativism gave way to the early 20th century's racially-biased eugenics movement. Thankfully, "selective breeding", which is the idea that only certain people should reproduce in order to create chosen characteristics in offspring, and eugenics, arranged breeding, lost momentum during World War II. At that time, the Nazis' ethnic cleansing (killing people based on their ethnic or religious associations) atrocities were exposed.

Empiricism (Extreme Nurture Position)

Philosopher John Locke's tabula rasa theory from 1689 directly opposes the idea that we are born with innate knowledge. "Tabula rasa" means "blank slate" and implies that our minds do not have innate knowledge at birth.

Locke was an empiricist who believed that all the knowledge we gain in life comes from sensory experiences (using their senses to understand the world), education, and day-to-day encounters after being born.

Today, looking at nature vs. nature in black-and-white terms is considered a misguided dichotomy (two-part system). There are so many shades of gray where nature and nurture overlap. It's impossible to tease out how inherited traits and learned behaviors shape someone's unique characteristics or influence how their mind works.

The influences of nature and nurture in psychology are impossible to unravel. For example, imagine someone growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent who has frequent rage attacks. If that child goes on to develop a substance use disorder and has trouble with emotion regulation in adulthood, it's impossible to know precisely how much genetics (nature) or adverse childhood experiences (nurture) affected that individual's personality traits or issues with alcoholism.

Epigenetics Blurs the Line Between Nature and Nurture

"Epigenetics " means "on top of" genetics. It refers to external factors and experiences that turn genes "on" or "off." Epigentic mechanisms alter DNA's physical structure in utero (in the womb) and across the human life span.

Epigenetics blurs the line between nature and nurture because it says that even after birth, our genetic material isn't set in stone; environmental factors can modify genes during one's lifetime. For example, cannabis exposure during critical windows of development can increase someone's risk of neurospsychiatric disease via epigenetic mechanisms.

Nature vs. nurture is a framework used to examine how genetics (nature) and environmental factors (nurture) influence human development and personality traits.

However, nature vs. nurture isn't a black-and-white issue; there are many shades of gray where the influence of nature and nurture overlap. In most cases, nature and nurture combine to make us who we are. 

A Word From Verywell

In a perfect world, every baby would grow up in a loving and nurturing home. Giving infants tons of love and lots of skin-to-skin contact nurtures them in ways that can have lifelong benefits. But even if you weren't nurtured enough growing up, you can start nurturing yourself now.

People change. Who you are isn't set in stone. Making good choices daily can help you take control of your life and your destiny. Adopting healthier habits in your day-to-day life and cultivating a strong sense of connectedness with others can offset the potential harm of certain inherited traits.

Nature and nurture are equally strong. Genetics (nature) account for about half of our human characteristics, whereas external factors (nurture) account for approximately the other half. For example, generalized anxiety disorder is caused by a mix of genes and external factors. It's impossible to disentangle how nature and nurture overlap; they are inextricably intertwined.

In human development, "nature" refers to genetic factors and "nurture" refers to external or environmental factors.

Eye color and skin pigmentation are examples of "nature" because they are present at birth and determined by inherited genes. Language and having a regional accent are learned after birth and occur through "nurture."

Some traits, such as having an aggressive temperament, are a mix of nature and nurture. Regarding nurture's influence, contemporary psychologist Albert Bandura's social learning theory suggests that aggression is learned through observation and imitation.

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Smith A, Kaufman F, Sandy MS, Cardenas A. Cannabis exposure during critical windows of development: epigenetic and molecular pathways implicated in neuropsychiatric disease .  Curr Envir Health Rpt . 2020;7(3):325-342. doi:10.1007/s40572-020-00275-4

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By Christopher Bergland Christopher Bergland is a retired ultra-endurance athlete turned medical writer and science reporter. 

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  1. Nature Vs Nurture Debate

    nature vs nurture debate arguments

  2. Nature vs. Nurture: When to Use Nurture vs. Nature (with Useful Examples) • 7ESL

    nature vs nurture debate arguments

  3. The controversy over the relative contributions of biology and experience.

    nature vs nurture debate arguments

  4. Nature Nurture Debate

    nature vs nurture debate arguments

  5. Parents and Children have Similar Personalities

    nature vs nurture debate arguments

  6. Debate

    nature vs nurture debate arguments



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  3. The 184-Year-Old Debate

  4. Frankenstein Nature vs Nurture debate

  5. make a fire with nylon ~ we destroyed the waste in nature

  6. Issues and Debates


  1. Nature and Nurture Debate

    One of the oldest arguments in the history of psychology is the Nature vs Nurture debate. Each of these sides have good points that it's really hard to

  2. Nature vs. Nurture: Genetic and Environmental Influences

    The nature vs. nurture debate centers on the contributions of genetics and environmental factors to human development. Some philosophers, such

  3. Nature vs. Nurture Debate in Psychology

    The nature versus nurture debate involves the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited (i.e., genetic)

  4. Nature vs Nurture

    The nature versus nurture debate is about the relative influence of an individual's innate attributes as opposed to the experiences from the environment one

  5. Nature vs. Nurture Debate

    The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about whether human culture, behavior, and personality are caused

  6. Nature Vs Nurture Debate: Definition & Importance

    Nature influencing nurture. ... What is the nature-nurture debate in psychology? ... The nature-nurture debate concerns the origins of psychological traits. The

  7. Nature vs. Nurture: How Are Personalities Formed?

    Researchers on both sides of the "nature versus nurture" debate agree that the link between a gene and behavior is not the same as cause and

  8. Nature vs. Nurture Debate: History & Examples, Behavior, and Theory

    The nature argument places more of an emphasis on genetics in how humans develop. The nurture argument credits how someone was raised or the

  9. Nature vs. Nurture Examples: Common Issues in the Debate

    The crux of the nature side of the debate is that genetics or other natural influences are mostly, if not entirely, responsible for the characteristics

  10. What Is Nature vs. Nurture in Psychology?

    Nature and nurture are equally strong. Genetics (nature) account for about half of our human characteristics, whereas external factors (nurture)