The Role of Nurture vs Nature: Can We Change Our Destiny?

The Role of Nurture vs Nature: Can We Change Our Destiny?
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For centuries, philosophers and scientists have grappled with a fundamental question: Are our personalities, behaviours, and life paths preordained by our genetics, or are they shaped by the environments we grow up in? Whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role in personality and development is one of the oldest philosophical debates within 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, the current consensus among psychologists and researchers, and techniques for overcoming both nurture and nature in living an empowered and fulfilling life.


Nature: Our Genetic Makeup

"Nature" refers to the genetic makeup we inherit from our parents. This includes our physical characteristics, such as eye colour, height, and predispositions to certain health conditions.

However, genetics also play a significant role in shaping our psychological traits. Research has shown that attributes like personality, intelligence, and susceptibility to mental health issues can be influenced by our DNA. Twin studies, particularly those involving identical twins raised apart, have provided compelling evidence of the genetic component in various traits and behaviours.

Nurture: Our Environment

On the flip side, "nurture" encompasses the environmental factors that surround us. This includes direct factors such as neonatal environment, family dynamics, cultural background, education, and personal experiences. Nature also includes broad factors like socioeconomic status and even the natural environment.

The nurturing environment we are exposed to can profoundly influence our emotional well-being, cognitive development, and social behaviours. For instance, a child raised in a supportive, loving household is likely to develop higher self-esteem and better-coping mechanisms compared to a child raised in a neglectful or abusive environment.


Examples of Nature vs. Nurture

One example of when the debate between nature and nurture occurs is when an individual achieves ahigh 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 and high-quality education?

The role of nature vs. nurture can also be debated when considering individual behaviour. If an individual struggles with anger issues, for example, is it because they were born with violent tendencies, or is violence something he learned by observing others when growing up?

Nature vs Nurture in Child Development

Some psychological theories of child development place more emphasis on nature, while others focus more on nurture. An example of a nativist theory involving child development is Chomsky's concept of a language acquisition device (LAD).

An example of an empiricist child development theory is Albert Bandura's social learning theory. This theory says that people learn by observing the behaviour of others. In his famous Bobo doll experiment, Bandura demonstrated that children could learn aggressive behaviours 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. Much like for child development, the answer to this question varies depending on which personality development theory you consider.

According to behavioural theories, personality is the result of interactions we have with our environment. However, biological theories suggest that personality is largely inherited through our genetics. Finally, psychodynamic theories of personality consider that both nurture and nature influence personality.


The Results of Twin Studies in Understanding Nurture vs Nature

To determine if genetics truly impacts development, researchers separated identical twins shortly after they were born, having them raised apart by different families. This approach assumes that because identical twins share the same genetic material, researchers can control for the influence of genetics on how people develop.  

One of the significant findings was that despite their different upbringing, twins showed significant similarities in IQ scores. As a result, researchers concluded that the rearing environment has a limited effect on the IQ scores of identical twins, instead attributing it to genetic similarity.

Similarly, identical twins share very similar personality traits. Genetics can account for a significant proportion of the similarity between twins for almost all personality traits. This suggests that genetics strongly influences cognitive development.

Importantly, this research could not attribute individual differences entirely to genetics. While most of the results were attributed to genetics, the environment still played an important role. Other studies have found that identical twins reared together had a stronger correlation between IQ scores than identical twins reared apart, suggesting that some environmental factors may still be at play.

Contemporary Understanding of the Relationship Between Nurture and Nature

Rather than viewing nature and nurture as opposing forces, modern psychology understands them as interwoven elements that collaboratively shape who we are. This perspective acknowledges that our genetic predispositions can influence how we respond to our environments, and our environments can affect the expression of our genes. For example, a person might have a genetic predisposition for high intelligence, but without a stimulating environment, this potential might not fully develop.

The Power of Choice

So, are we predestined? Not entirely. While we are products of our genes and personal experiences, people also have the power to shape their own destinies product of our genes and personal experiences; people also have the power to shape their own destiny. By understanding our natural tendencies and the impact of our environment, we can make informed choices to develop our strengths and overcome challenges.

How Psychological Therapy Enables Change

Therapy from a clinical psychologist can be a powerful tool for individuals seeking to change their behaviour. Therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and psychodynamic therapy, can help individuals gain insight into how their past has shaped their thoughts, behaviours, and emotions whilst learning new ways to overcome problems. Therapy allows individuals to learn ways to overcome difficult situations and manage their emotions regardless of the compounding effects of nature or their environment.

How Neurofeedback Enables Change

Neurofeedback is a cutting-edge technique that empowers individuals to take control of their brain function, offering a transformative pathway to change their lives regardless of genetics or upbringing. By providing real-time monitoring and feedback of brain activity, neurofeedback helps individuals learn to regulate their brain, enhancing cognitive performance, emotional stability, and overall well-being.


At Mindstate Psychology, we are committed to helping individuals navigate their unique journeys despite their genetic makeup and life experiences. We strive to support our clients in realising their fullest potential, fostering growth and resilience in the face of life's challenges while acknowledging the factors that shaped their growth. Our team of dedicated Perth Psychologists are available to guide you on your path to self-discovery and personal growth.

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