Psychology – Nature, Nurture, and Human Diversity

Human beings differ from and resemble each other in various ways. Personality and character is determined by the individual’s external environment (nature) and genetic structure (nurture). The study of the contribution of nature and nurture to human diversity is referred to as behavioral genetics. Environmental factors are diverse and may range from pre-natal nutrition to social status. Some environmental factors are controllable. However, an individual may not be able to control all his external variables. Genetic structure is inherited from the parents and other relatives, and an individual has no control over what he acquires from his parents, it is simply a natural process.

Personality and behavior is influenced by multiple genes. It is undeniable that the biological structure of an individual contributes to his personality, behavior and temperament. For instance, after an accident resulting to brain injury and chemical imbalances, a mild –mannered person may change drastically and become rude and obnoxious. The non-environmental aspect of personality and behavior can also be illustrated by the fact that most people’s personalities change after an extended period of drug use, as it permanently alters their brain’s chemical balance. Individual traits that may run hereditarily include homosexuality, alcoholism, tobacco and drug addiction, thrill-seeking personality and mental illness. These traits are passed by parents to their offspring through DNA.

A child with an alcoholic parent may not necessarily become an alcoholic himself, but is more genetically predisposed to it. This explains why a mother with a drug addiction will give birth to a child who is already addicted to the drug and needs to be weaned off the drug slowly. The impact of nature and nurture on personality is commonly studied using twins and adopted children. In the study of nature, nurture and human behavior, it has been found that adoptees usually have the character traits of their biological parents such as their characteristically different patterns of acting, speech and thought. This further proves that some aspects of human behavior can be inherited. The adoptees resemble their adoptive parents in their attitudes, beliefs and conduct. The biological parents represent nature, while the adoptive parents represent nurture. This shows that both elements have a major impact on the individual’s behavior.

Geniuses are thought to have a different hereditary structure in that they have a higher IQ than the average person. Some psychologists believe that with enough ambition, self-motivation, a burning desire for success and consistency, any person can drive himself to achieving genius. These psychologists also argue that determination and constant practice increase an individual’s talents and mental capacity, and therefore they believe that one can construct him or herself by choosing the suitable behavior.

On the other hand, there are psychologists who believe that genius is an innate trait, which is passed to an individual through their DNA. Therefore, while it is true that genius and talents develop through constant practice, it is an individual’s genes that determine his or her interests and passions, which in turn determine whether the person is more predisposed to genius or not. I believe that genius and talents can be acquired through both nature and nurture. For instance, one does not necessarily need to be a genius in order to learn how to play the piano expertly; while it is true that there are pianists who are naturally gifted, most people become good pianists through practice, hard work and good training.

Human diversity can also be attributed to the cultural differences among different people.

Nature refers to an individual’s external, environmental factors such as experiences, while nurture refers to the innate, genetic factors that shape a person’s behavior and traits. Both factors contribute to the individual’s personality. Some scientists argue that human beings are born ‘blank’ and their personalities and character are built by their experiences and their environment. Others argue that character and behavior is hereditary, that is it is determined by the genetic structure of the individual. Behavior is formed as an interaction between nature and nurture.

An individual’s DNA comprises of 46 chromosomes; 23 from the male parent and 23 from the female parent. Each individual has a different genetic structure and no two people can be the same. A person’s genes are not solely responsible for his behavior, but they have been proven to provide the foundation upon which personality and character are developed.

Despite sharing the same set of genes and in typical cases the same environment, identical twins defer in behavior. The study of the impact of genes on behavior is best illustrated by twins who grow up in different environments and different experiences, but still have a few similar behaviors.

Pre-natal and post-natal conditions also influence the personality and behavior of an individual. This is best illustrated by identical twins that while in the womb may experience different conditions. One twin may have adequate access to nourishment and comfort, while the other may lack sufficient nourishment and comfort and hence right from the beginning, may have had to develop adaptative behavior, which may be carried even into his adult life. Research has revealed that identical twins brought up apart, without knowledge of each other bear similar characteristics and personality traits. On the other hand, biological siblings have a few shared traits while adoptive siblings usually have very little to nothing in common.

Criminal tendencies are also related to the nurturing that one receives as a child. An individual that grows up in a secure, loving environment and is taught good-mannerisms is more likely to grow into a confident, social and moral person. On the other hand, the individual who grows up in an abusive, unloving and violent home is more likely to adopt the same behaviors as an adult. In addition to this, they also have a higher biological predisposition to exhibit criminal behavior. This is because, they learn at an early age that they have to be aggressive to get what they want in the world, and they are brought up to think that the world is as hostile and cold as the environment in which they grew up.

According to a study carried out by Bernhardt in 1930, criminal tendencies are also hereditary. The study was carried out on two families. The first families had parents who did not have any criminal behavior, but whose grandparents were involved in various forms of crime. The second family did not have any member who had ever participated in any form of crime or displayed criminal tendencies. The results showed that the siblings in the first group were twice as likely to engage in crime as those in the second group. This shows that in some cases, genetics have a higher influence on behavior than the individual’s environment. In this case, the siblings from group one, who showed criminal tendencies, inherited a trait from their grandparents that makes them more predisposed to breaking rules.

Cultures also determine behavior as they dictate the societal norms and taboos, and therefore largely determine how people should or should not behave. Cultures are usually transmitted down generations; hence, the cultural environment of an individual may largely determine his personality traits and character. Some cultures for instance promote personal expressiveness while in other cultures the individual is supposed to conform to the norms and accepted standards of the community. Cultures shape the attitudes, beliefs and values of the society. The difference between culturally influenced behavior and genetically influenced behavior is that culture is dynamic and is subject to change whereas genetic structure is permanent. Therefore, what was considered taboo by an earlier generation might become acceptable to subsequent generations.

Personally, I disagree with the nurture theory because it implies that an individual’s behavior is controlled by his genes, and therefore this ultimately means that human beings are slaves to their genes. I think this is a false notion, which makes individuals complacent especially in matters concerning negative behaviors such as alcoholism. For instance, an individual whose father and mother were alcoholics might become an alcoholic, and base it on the excuse that he acquired it from his parents. I believe that humans behave in a certain way largely out of choice. In this case, the individual makes the personal choice that he will drink heavily regularly and that is where his alcoholism originates. Choices determine actions, and actions determine behavior. Thus, negative behavior arises from poor choices and not genetic structure.



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