Last Updated 26 Jan 2021

Nature vs. Nurture Critical Analysis

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Nature Vs. Nurture For centuries psychologists have argued over which plays the larger role in child development, heredity or environment. One of the first theories was proposed in the seventeenth century by the British philosopher John Locke. Locke believed that a child was born with an empty mind, tabula rasa (meaning "blank slate") and that everything the child learns comes from experience, nothing is established beforehand. Years later, Charles Darwin brought forth his theory of evolution, which led to a return of the hereditarian viewpoint.

With the twentieth century, however, came the rise of behaviorism. Behaviorists, like John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, argued that a child can be made into any kind of person, regardless of their heredity. Today, most psychologists agree that both nature (genes) and nurture (environment) play an important role, not independently, but as they interact together (Atkinson, p. 72). One of the most important factors believed to influence a child are parents. Parents are known to share a distinctive bond with their children. This special bond is what enables parents to shape their children.

Whether it is into free-willed adolescents, ready to challenge any controversy, or into caring adults willing to spend the seventy cents a day to save a poverty stricken child. Parents have the power to mold their children. Setting firm, yet sensible, guidelines teaches children discipline and good behavior. Using physical abuse produces aggressive children, but having patience and understanding leaves a child better capable to handle stress in later years. How parents raise their children influences how they will turn out (Begley, p. 53). Surprisingly, a new debate is taking place.

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As the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do; Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More, Judith Rich Harris argues that parents have absolutely no say in what kind of children they raise. She claims that after the parents contribute an egg or sperm filled with DNA, their job of "creating" a child is complete. Her book is backed by some 750 references, but most of her conclusions come from the observation of her own two daughters; one her own and one adopted (Begley, p. 53). Parents, however, do play an important role in childhood development.

For the purposes of this essay, her theory that parents have no lasting effects on a child's personality will be argued. The following contains supporting scientific evidence. The DNA structure of a human, the genes, determines the height a person will reach, whether an individual's eyes will be green or brown, and if a person's hair will be straight or curly (Saplosky, p. 44). Research has also found that genes are 30 to 70 percent responsible for personality traits such as aggression, passion, shyness and intelligence. The other 30 to 70 percent of a person's personality develop from the environment (Pool, p. 2). Genes, however, are not what produces a behavior, an emotion, or even a thought. Instead, genes produce a protein that contains hormones, which carry messages between cells, and neurotransmitters that carry messages between nerve cells. The protein also contains receptors that receive the hormonal and neurotransmitter messages as well as enzymes that read the messages. So what does all this have to do with behavior? Well, the hormone does not cause a behavior either, but rather a reaction. This reaction is a tendency to respond to the individual's environment in a certain way. This response is behavior.

Without the ever changing environment, behavior would not happen (Saplosky, p. 42-43). Wouldn't this fact make everyone act the same? Everyone lives in the same world. Everyone is facing the same problems of a growing population, pollution, and disintegrating resources. Wouldn't this make everyone act the same? Not at all. When speaking of the environment that shapes a person's personality, it isn't the environment that the world population shares. It includes more personal things like birth order and personal, unique life experiences. This is the "environment" that influences behavior.

Things like the pollution leave no lasting effect on a child's behavior (Pool, p. 52). Everyone's genes also differ. Of the DNA found in every human being, only 5% can be coded and used to determine which proteins will be used. The other 95% of non coded DNA is used as a instruction manual for the operator. The environment being the operator which regulates the genes. In turn, a personality is produced. As well as having different genes to produce different proteins, the proteins produce hormones at different levels. For example, two people both have the same functioning gene.

The hormones produced are the same, but function at different levels. Therefore, one of them may become more prone to depression than the other simply because the proteins in that person's genes function, in a sense, better (Sapolsky, p. 46). Parents can not determine whether or not their family history of shyness is passed on to their children, but they can determine if they are going to let it control their childrens' life. Studies done by Harvard scholar Jerome Kagan prove that parents who push their timid children to try new things end up with children who are far less fearful.

On the other hand, overprotective parents did nothing to ease their childrens' discomfort. Intervention studies, studies similar to Kagan's, have shown that parents who purposely change their behavior can change their child's behavior. Although genes cannot be helped, parents can control whether or not they affect the child (Begley, p. 56). Research has also found that a child's experience of his or her parents is an especially strong sculptor in parts of the brain involved with emotion, personality, and behavior.

Strong bonds with parents are found to increase a child's ability to learn and cope with stress. On the other hand, abusive parents raise children that in later years grow to express inappropriate aggression and have a small attention p. Having responsive, sensitive parents inspire trust and secure attachments. Yet, insensitive and withdrawn parents create an insecure attachment. Developmental psychologists agree, the bond children have with parents is essential for them to become well-functioning adults (Wright, p. 76).

Megan Gunnar, a developmental psychologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, studies relationships between parents and children. One of her studies focused on the relationship between attachment security and reaction to stress. Gunnar found that when infants were exposed to stressful situations, such as vaccinations, strangers, or separation from the mother, the stress hormone cortisol was produced. By the age of two, the hormone wasn't produced by the toddlers in stressful situations, although they acted out as if it were.

These children, however, had secure attachments to their parents. Children who didn't have the security still produced the hormone cortisol (Wright, p. 76). Harris, who feels parents leave no impression on their children, believes that "Parental divorce has no lasting effects on the way children behave" (Begley, p. 56). Heredity, she says, is what makes a child act out about or during a divorce. The fact, though, is that the unstable situation of the family causes a child to act out (Edwards, p. 31). For a child, friends, pets, teachers, and others important people may come and go.

Parents and their family, however, should always be there for them. When parents divorce, a child may feel lost and may not know how to handle it (Edwards, p. 31). Acting out is one way of showing anger and hurt. Parents, although they don't realize it, are shaping their child's personality. Whether it is by acting out or holding it all in, children are influenced by their parent's actions. Kids will be kids. It's a common phrase. Everybody uses it, but not everybody understands it. Parents often feel that, despite their efforts, their children will do what they want.

They'll smoke and drink and party. They'll cuss and cheat. They'll go against their parents wishes. Why? Because human behavior often follows cultural norms (Pinker, p. 94). If the parents did their job well, the rebellion will only be a stage that the child will grow out of. If parents didn't do their job right, the stage may set the mood for the rest of the child's life. Parents are the most influential "environmental" factors in a child's behavior. A special bond is shared between children and their parents. As Roger Rosenblatt put it, "We do what we can as parents, one child at a time.

We take what we get in our children, and they take what they get in us, making compromises and adjustments where we are able, making rules and explanations, but for the most part letting things happen. . . " (Rosenblatt, p. 90). Genes may determine the possibilities of personality available, but it is the parents that make those possibilities possible. Parents matter. Bibliography: Arkinson, Rita L. "Psychological Development" Introduction to Psychology. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc. , 1993. Begley, Sharon. "The Parent Trap," Newsweek, (September 7, 1998). p. 52-59. Edwards, Randall. Divorce Need Not Harm Children. " in Child Welfare: Opposing Viewpoints. Bender, David and Leone, Bruno, Series Editors. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1998. Kevles, Behhyann H. and Daniel J. "Scapegoat Biology. " Discover, (October 1997). p. 58-62. Pinker, Steven. "Against Nature. " Discover, (October 1997). p. 92-95. Pool, Robert. "Portrait of a Gene Guy. " Discover, (October 1997). p. 51-55. Rosenblatt, Roger. "A Game of Catch," Time, Vol. 152 (July 13, 1998). p. 90. Sapolsky, Robert. "A Gene For Nothing," Discover, (October 1997). p. 40-46. Waldman, Steven. "Divorce Harms Children. " in Child Welfare: Opposing Viewpoints.

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