This is truly one of the most age old and common questions throughout the field of psychology. It is essentially the debate of nature versus nurture or biology versus learning or experience. The real question is, do we acquire our traits on the basis of experience, or are we born with them? For those such as Paul Ehrlich and Marcus Feldman, who believe that environment does influence human development more than genes, they argue this statement on the basis that there is no possible way each person has enough genes in order to account for all of the behavioral differences that exist in people. Those on this side of the spectrum also believe that cultural evolution is clearly more important and accurate than biological evolution when analyzing behavior. For example, there are plenty of social and cultural norms that have the ability to regulate the behavior of certain members of a specific society. According to Professors Ehrlich and Feldman, there are simply too many variations in terms of the manners in which humans behave in order for biology alone to determine a person’s actions (Slife, 2008).
On the opposite side of this debate, the nature position, psychologists such as Gary Marcus feel as though genes are far more influential in terms of determining behavior than experience is on the basis that genes limit the possibilities that one has to act in a certain way. Those who focus their attention on this side of the debate take time to point out that it is because of biological evolution that it is even possible for cultural influences to be able to affect a person’s behavior. According to Marcus, genes play the most dominant role in how a person will behave because they do not act as dictators, but rather serve to provide each individual with opportunities to behave a certain way (Slife, 2008).
I personally think that this is a debate that will stay with us for quite some time. I do not think that I will see a time when everyone will be in agreement one way or another. Nature versus nurture….well, as a logical compromise, I think that our behavior is strongly influenced by both. I suppose at the core of it, nature is the basis for the manner in which someone behaves, but the environment certainly has the ability to change what is natural by incorporating a variety of factors. I agree that genes set up an individual to be more likely to behave a certain way, but the environment has the ability to alter that original state and therefore it is clearly a combination of nature and nurture, beginning with nature of course, that truly sets forth a path of behavioral patterns for any given person.
Much of the research that has been done on this topic has involved animals. When studying the genetic side to this argument, many researchers have used rats and grouped them together based on which rats could complete a maze the fastest and then began breeding the groups together to see if the resulting rats also fit into their parent’s group. Dogs are also commonly used in research involving genetics. By comparing different purebred breeds, researchers believe that genetics certainly play a major role in behavior based on the fact that beagles acted in a specific way when compared to cocker spaniels which proved to be the easiest to train (Neilson, n.d.).
Do some people probably behave more on the basis of their genes and the natural, biological aspect of things? Definitely. However, at the same time, the environment may play an even bigger role in the lives and behavior of other people based on numerous factors such as family life, upbringing, socioeconomic status, etc. Therefore, I believe that it becomes apparent that while nature may begin the behavioral path, the environment may take over and in the end, neither side will ever fully be correct.
- Neilson, J. (n.d.). Nature vs. nurture: the genetics of behavior. Animal Behavioral Clinic.
- Slife, B. (2008). Taking sides: clashing views on psychological issues. 15th ed. McGraw
- Hill: New York, NY.