Current Thinking About Nature and Nurture

Chapter
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 1)

Abstract

Theories about the origins of people’s biological and psychological characteristics have focused for centuries on the contributions of Nature and Nurture to development. Modern psychologists often maintain that it is an error to ask if Nature or Nurture determines the form of a particular trait, because the two types of factors interact during development. Instead, some of them have argued, the question of importance is: how much does each factor contribute to this process? This is the approach adopted by quantitative behavioral geneticists engaged in twin and/or adoption studies—research designed to yield heritability estimates for a wide variety of traits. In contrast, molecular biologists have learned that the dichotomy at the heart of such questions does not stand up to either conceptual or empirical scrutiny. In fact, it makes little sense to attempt to quantify the extent to which Nature versus Nurture contributes to a trait, precisely because these two classes of factors are always essential to—and interactive during—the development of both biological and psychological characteristics. Therefore, the question of importance is: how are our traits built during development? That is, how is it that genetic factors, proteins, cells, organs, organisms, and populations of individuals co-act to produce phenotypes in development? There are a number of related insights at the center of this discussion, including that the environments and experiences we encounter as we develop get inside of us in ways that alter our biological/genetic functioning, and that biological factors collaborate with environmental factors to build all of our organs, including our brains and their associated behaviors, cognitions, and emotions. Although the conceptualization of Nature and Nurture as dichotomous has a long history, evidence from the biological sciences indicates that it has outlived its usefulness. Consequently, those wishing to teach students about genetics, human nature, inheritance, and development would be well advised to refrain from framing their discussions in terms of this obsolete dichotomy.

Keywords

Heritability Estimate Twin Study Psychological Characteristic Molecular Biologist Royal Jelly 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful to both Kostas Kampourakis and Lisa Gannett for their helpful comments in response to earlier drafts of this chapter.

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pitzer CollegeClaremontUSA
  2. 2.Claremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA

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