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Nature vs. Nurture in Child Psychology


Children depend wholly on their parents or guardians for support and care. At birth, they have hereditary material (genetic effects) acquired from their parents, and as they grow, they experience the influence of the psychological, social, and physical settings (environmental aspects). Children develop quickly in all spheres of life: psychological, cognitive, biological, and social (Charney, 2013). Are the life changes already preset as they grow? Are the experiences of their early years (environmentally stimulated) able to determine what will occur in their later lives?

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Changes in a child’s development are consistent all through life as they mark a lifetime progression of losses and gains. Most of such transformations happen in expected patterns. Though the continuous development of children may occur predictably, the extent of change and the time of occurrence differ from one child to the other (Harold et al., 2013). In the past, genetic (nature) and nonhereditary (nurture) factors were believed to operate independently. Nevertheless, after a period of debate, it has been established that environmental and genetic factors are vital aspects, development is an amalgamation of both, and they have to function dependently. On this note, possibly the issue of “nature vs. nurture” ought to be changed to “nature and nurture.”

The nature versus nurture discourse concerns the relative impact of a person’s natural qualities when judged against the influence of the surroundings that he/she is brought up in, in the establishment of personal differences in behavioral and physical characteristics. There is an extensive perception that human beings obtain all or the majority of their behavioral attributes from “nurture.” In contemporary times, both nature and nurture have been seen to play a crucial role in human development and behavior (Harold et al., 2013). The nature vs. nature debate considers the degree to which considerable factors of conduct have been triggered either by genetic (hereditary) or learned (acquired) attributes (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). While nature considers what is thought to be pre-wiring and emanating from genetic and biological aspects, nurture is the impact of external facets that occur after birth (for instance, learning, experience, and exposure).

The Arising Influence

A child’s physical characteristics may be deemed identical to those of parents, for instance, a baby could have a hair color that is similar to the mother’s. Nevertheless, a child’s personality and abilities might fail to match those of either parent (Harold et al., 2013). The surroundings in which children are brought up might have a lifelong impact on the manner in which they communicate, act, and react to situations around them. The arguments in the nurture versus nature debate make it difficult to determine whether some characteristics in the development of a child are predisposed in his/her genetic material or occurrences in his/her environment.

In contemporary times, studies have made it clear that both nurture and nature have a fundamental function in human behavior and development. Every child is born with a natural psychological ability that enables them to learn how to act and produce language (Charney, 2013). Since most of the child’s behaviors are associated with the influence of the environment, the way in which a child behaves may be connected to factors such as parenting approaches and learned practices. For instance, a child might learn from people around him/her to say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ while another may be influenced into becoming hostile through constantly watching the violent behavior of other older children.

It has for a long time been identified that some physical attributes and conditions such as curly/straight hair and albinism respectively are biologically influenced by genetic factors (Harold et al., 2013). Other physical attributes, if not being directly established, seem to be at least powerfully swayed by the genetic composition of biological parents. A child’s body weight, height, baldness (in males), life expectancy, and susceptibility to particular diseases (for example, breast cancer in females) are strongly associated amid genetically linked people. Such concerns have resulted in many people contemplating whether psychological attributes that encompass behavioral inclinations, personality aspects, and intellectual capacities occur naturally in a child as they are all genetically inherited. The individuals who acquire a strongly heritable position are referred to as nativists. Charney (2013) affirms that the attributes of human beings in entirety are influenced by evolution and that personal differences happen because of every individual’s exceptional genetic code. On this note, the earlier a given attribute emerges, the higher the likelihood of it being influenced by genetic characteristics.

Attributes and differences which are not decipherable immediately after birth and that occur in later life, are taken to be results of maturation (Harold et al., 2013). This signifies that every person has an internal genetic clock whose operation depends on the nature of behavior in a preset manner. Some of the excellent instances of the manner in which this influences a child’s physical development are the bodily transformations that happen at the onset of the adolescent during the teenage years. Nevertheless, nativists affirm that continued maturation in a child influences the concerns of connection in formative years, language development, and cognitive advancement altogether (Harold et al., 2013). At a different phase of the argument are the environmentalists, also referred to as empiricists, whose fundamental presupposition is that the mind of a baby is at a blank state during delivery and that it is progressively filled with time due to a child’s experiences (behaviorism).

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From the nurture’s standpoint, psychological attributes and behavioral dissimilarities that arise in the course of childhood and adolescence hail from learning (Charney, 2013). The way in which a child is brought up (nurtured) dictates the essential factors of a child’s psychological development and the period of maturation just influences the biological factors. For instance, the moment a baby starts developing a connection, it is reacting to the love and care that it gets, language acquisition relies on the imitation of the words of other people, and cognitive advancement relies on the extent of arousal in the surroundings and, more expansively, on the society within which a child is brought up. Bowlby’s theory of attachment offers views on the position of nature in the psychological development of a child (Tammen, Friso, & Choi, 2013). It considers the connection between the mother and her baby as an inborn progression that guarantees continued existence. Moreover, language development in a child is enhanced by the natural language acquisition ability.

The social learning theory asserts that conducts such as violent behavior are learned from the surroundings via simulation and observation (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). In line with the theory, some behaviors of children develop through being influenced by the conduct of others. This has a great impact on the behavior of the adult that the child turns out to be in later life. Furthermore, a child learns language from the people that he/she shares the same environment through behavior determining approaches. In practice, barely any person in the modern world accepts or rejects the extreme points of view in nature versus nurture debate (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). There are just too many facts on either position of the debate. In this regard, rather than seeking to know if nurture or nature influences the traits of children, studies have increasingly centered on the inquiry: To what extent? In simple terms, what is of significance in the modern world is establishing the one that is more influential since both the environment and genes contribute to the development of a child.

In contemporary times, there has been a mounting realization that the inquiry of the extent of conduct is based on genetics while the influence of the environment might itself be a mistaken issue (Tammen et al., 2013). While considering intelligence, it is evident that (like nearly all forms of human conduct), it is an intricate, multi-sided occurrence that either conceals or discloses itself in numerous ways. Wanting to know the magnitude of the influence is presuming that every variable may be presented numerically and the impact might be determined in a quantitative approach. The truth is that culture and nature interrelate in a multitude of qualitatively diverse approaches (Charney, 2013). It is extensively agreed that the environment and genetics do not operate dependently; nurture and nature are both fundamental for behavioral occurrences, and it is difficult to prove that a given behavior is heritable while the other is triggered by the environment. It is impractical to disconnect the two factors since they network in an intricate style.

Rather than supporting the nurturist or nativist point of view, the majority of researchers in the field of psychology have chosen to evaluate the manner in which nurture and nature interconnect (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). For instance, in psychopathology, it has been established that both hereditary inclinations and a suitable environmental prompt are necessary for the development of mental health disorders. This makes it impossible to prove that one of the factors is fully accountable. It makes sense to assert that the dissimilarity amid people’s behavior is mainly attributable to hereditary aspects or largely because of environmental triggers. Such apprehension is particularly significant given the contemporary advancements in genetics (Tammen et al., 2013).

For instance, the Human Genome Scheme has triggered much concern in linking forms of conduct to specific strands of deoxyribonucleic acid positioned on some chromosomes. A wide pool of studies affirms that scientists are on the brink of realizing the gene responsible for criminality, alcohol abuse, and homosexuality. In case the arising advancements are not abused, there will be a necessity for the comprehension of the aspect of biology interrelating with the cultural factors and the personal inclinations that human beings realize concerning their lives. There is yet to be an easy and neat means of unraveling the quantitatively unlike and common influences on a child’s development and human conduct.

Intelligence Quotient

Glausiusz (2016) believes that the intellectual capacity of a child is greatly inherited and the inclination of genius children being born in the same family is a product of natural dominance. Such a perspective has consistently been cropping up in psychology thereby eliciting studies into intelligence assessment (especially on adopted children and twins). After the establishment that the average intelligence quotient (IQ) score for African Americans is considerably less when judged against that of the whites, studies have continued to affirm that genetic aspects are mostly accountable, to the point of implying that intelligence is 80% hereditary. Fox (2017) is convinced that the human species may be improved through enhanced breeding. On this note, there once arose a campaign for the sterilization of both male and female patients with psychiatric disorders. Currently, many researchers think that the immigration laws in Britain were implemented for discrimination against Asian and African racial groups.

For the majority of environmentalists, there is a greatly contested notion regarding the impact of behavioral genetics. In their viewpoint, Tammen et al. (2013) allege that the IQ score of varying racial groups is attributable to innate prejudices in the techniques of assessment. More essentially, they affirm that dissimilarities in intellectual capacity are outcomes of social inequities in the availability of funds, knowledge, and opportunities. This way, it is believed that the children that grow up in ghetto areas have an inclination towards scoring less in IQ tests since they lack access to the advanced life opportunities which the wealthy and privileged individuals in the nation have. The reasons behind the nurture vs. nature issue turning out to be a strongly pondered topic are now apparent (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). An issue that began as an effort to comprehend the basis of behavioral divergences changed to a politically propelled controversy regarding distributive influence and impartiality in the community, and affected not just IQ but similarly the concerns of gender, sex, and culture.

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Research implies that environmental influences in a family might have a considerable effect on the IQ of children, which makes up about a quarter of the variation (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). On the contrary, by late adolescence, the connection ebbs out to the extent that adoptive siblings are no more alike in intelligent quotient than aliens (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). Besides, adoption research shows that by the time they become adults, adoptive children have an intelligent quotient akin to that of aliens (with almost no relationship) whereas siblings have an intelligence quotient relationship of approximately 0.7. The research on twins strengthens the connection with the identical ones who have been brought up in different environments having an intelligence quotient score of about 0.9 and fraternal ones nurtured together 0.7. With respect to the nature vs. nurture discourse, the “nature” element seems more essential when judged against the “nurture” one when it comes to the explanation of intelligence quotient variation.

Nurture’s Effects

Numerous rationales may seem incapable of being swayed by environmental cues even when they actually are (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). For example, some of the aspects that control a child’s behavior occur in the prenatal settings, and there is minimal chance of directly observing their impacts, which may be considerable nonetheless. There is proof that the food that a mother consumes can influence the baby’s taste for some flavors or result in the child becoming schizoid or obese in later life (Montag et al., 2016). On the same note, the voices that a baby hears while in the uterus may have an impact on their behavioral attributes after birth. Morphological qualities that occur prenatally, a grouping that encompasses things such as facial bones, as well appear because of the arising interrelations between hereditary and nonhereditary aspects within the uterus.

Most of the factors that could influence a child’s behavior are consistent across the developmental surroundings, which makes it hard to perceive their impact (Sobrin & Seddon, 2014). Since all children are brought up in settings that have, for example, gravity and oxygen, grownups that keep communicating, and different nutrients, it is not possible to see the influence of such environmental facets casually. However, the facets have a possibility of containing considerable effects on the emergence of a child’s characteristics, even in cases where they cannot be invoked to explain divergences amid children (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). Though some nutrients are responsible for influencing the color of hair in a child, the impact of such an environmental aspect is not readily evident since in most regions across the globe there have plenty of the necessary nutrients to the extent that no child can be malnourished in a manner that would show the nutritional impact on hair color clearly. Similarly, the noteworthy task of gravity in the enhancement of normal human motor coordination was undetected until when it became possible to assess the effect on other animals such as rats.

A number of the aspects that control a child’s attributes are highly faint and may easily escape without realization (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). Research on different animals has shown a diversity of impacts of environmental stimuli on the development of characteristics in children, concerns that may have a non-apparent connection to the stimuli accountable for their production. For instance, introducing chicks to their toes could result in their consumption of mealworms, and including crickets or grasshoppers in the food of squirrel monkeys results in their dread of snakes (Montag et al., 2016). Taking into consideration the difficulty of establishing such connections that appear entirely unpredictable, non-noticeable environmental contributors to development may eventually be perceived as a class that contains a huge number of dominant environmental aspects yet to be identified.

Though several aspects that influence the establishment of traits in children are not hereditary, they are, however, not biological; for instance, steroid hormones (Bartelt & Dennis, 2014). Such chemicals cannot be classified under the description of nature in behavioral genetics (since they are not genetic), and their production within the body cannot fit in the confines of nurture. Testosterone represents a steroid hormone that controls the development of psychological attributes such as hostility and spatial cognition (Montag et al., 2016). The influence of this hormone on such attributes signifies that the experiences a child has that manipulate the amount of testosterone may influence their conduct.

Notably, testosterone’s effects would be factual irrespective of whether such an experience is one that people would normally relate to nurturing (Montag et al., 2016). For instance, the moment that the rate of salivary testosterone production is influenced by engagement in athletic competition, people would take that to be an impact of nurture (because one child could get involved in athletic competition more than another). On the contrary, though the increase in testosterone production at puberty carries a similar effect, it might typically not be linked to nurturing. On this note, researchers have sought a wide and relational depiction of experiences that encompass other behaviors apart from the ones clearly involving learning. Can testosterone be deemed an effect of nurture or nature? Such a question does not seem sensible with respect to the understanding of scientists regarding the way molecules in the body are influenced genetically and through experience.

Some environmental aspects that have an impact on development occur in the uterus, others invariably exist in human developmental settings, and several perform in exceedingly subtle approaches, and people fail to discover numerous occurrences as environmentally triggered (since although they are not hereditary and may be controlled by the external surroundings, they happen inside the body of an individual). In any case, the impact of such incidences is difficult to identify. In this regard, casual observation at times implies that a child has several traits that are entirely uninfluenced by nurture (Fox, 2017). Nonetheless, since genes just articulate their effects in contexts and their impact sways their operations, the genome may be considered reactive and nonhereditary aspects have to be taken to function always in the occurrence of characteristics in children.

Nature’s Effects

The entire compilation of the genetic material (genes) is referred to as the human genome (Glausiusz, 2016). The developments in technology and studies on genetic material have enabled researchers to understand the influence of heredity on a child’s development. Human beings inherit their hereditary factors from biological parents and genes represent the essential constituent of the genetic material as they hold the heritable information, directions for biological performance, and inborn traits. The genes from both the mother and the father merge to create the child’s genetic material. The hereditary material exists in the nature of thread-like pieces referred to as chromosomes. The majority of the cells in the body contain 23 pairs of chromosomes where each constituent in a pair is inherited from the father and the other from the mother. One amid the 23 pairs of chromosomes consists of sex chromosomes, which are responsible for the child’s gender, whether male or female. If the pair is made up of two X chromosomes, the child will be female, while children turn out to be made in cases where the pair contains an X and a Y chromosome.

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Chromosomes consist of deoxyribonucleic acid, which is made up of genes, a child’s hereditary blueprint that sways his or her developmental conduct (Glausiusz, 2016). The identification and assessment of the genetic material that makes each child unique are intricate and early impracticable. A number of traits, nevertheless, are obvious instances of inheritance. Such encompass attributes that are influenced by one pair of chromosomes, for example, the ability to roll one’s tongue, the appearance of a child’s earlobes, green or red color blindness, the tallness of the second toe, and existence or nonexistence of widow’s peak. A child can have the ability to roll his/her tongue or not, a hereditary characteristic that cannot be taught (Fox, 2017). Children who can roll their tongue have inherited at least one “tongue-rolling” genetic material from their parents.

Since genes occur in pairs, in most instances, one chromosome in the pair might be dominant when judged against the other (the recessive gene). The characteristics of the dominant gene in the pair have to show irrespective of the existence of the other chromosome (Montag et al., 2016). In a case where the dominant gene is the “tongue-rolling” one, a child will have the ability to roll his/her tongue even if the recessive gene is “non-tongue-rolling.” The characteristics of a recessive gene are only evident when there are two of such in a pair. Every person is influenced by environmental factors in an exceptional manner. The influence of both genetic and nonhereditary aspects is exceedingly intricate and hard to disconnect. Several attributes of development such as learning to babble and vocalize in infancy seem to be coded in the genetic material with little or no manipulation of the environment. In this regard, all babies around the globe, encompassing the ones that have hearing problems, babble in a similar manner.

Some of the children’s attributes, for instance, personality and astuteness, are swayed by environmental aspects, though hereditary material usually seems to mark boundaries and restrictions (Glausiusz, 2016). Though a child could have been born with the hereditary factors that enable him/her to attain a high degree of intelligence, it is not guaranteed that they will achieve such a level. However, with the availability of the most suitable environmental situation, comprising of good health, food, and safe and favorable surroundings, they have a high possibility of growing up to achieve their intellectual capacity. Experiencing poor conditions, for example, undernourishment, illness, negligence, or exposure to harmful chemicals, may make children have poor intelligence levels and the inability to realize their potential. Height is another characteristic that could be swayed by the interrelation of nurture and nature considerably (Fox, 2017). A child may hail from a family of tall people, inherit the genetic materials for tallness, and end up becoming short. Growing up in an unfavorable environment where the child does not obtain suitable nourishment may make him/her fail to realize the height that she/he could have attained had he/she been brought up in a healthy environment.


Children depend utterly on their parents or caregivers for support and care. In the course of formation within the womb, they have hereditary material acquired from their parents, and after birth, they go through the influence of the emotional, social, and physical settings (the environment). In the past, inherited (nature) and nonhereditary (nurture) features were believed to work independently. Nonetheless, after a period of debate, it has been found that environmental and inherent factors are imperative aspects, development is a union of both, and they have to operate dependently. On this note, probably the issue of “nature vs. nurture” should be altered to “nature and nurture.”

While nature mulls over what is deemed pre-wiring and springs from heritable and biological facets, nurture is the impact of external occurrences that transpire after birth (for example, learning, practice, and exposure). The physical characteristics of a child may be deemed indistinguishable to those of parents, for instance, a child could have a hair color that is akin to the mothers. Nevertheless, a child’s qualities and abilities might fail to equal those of either parent. The setting in which children are raised might have a permanent impact on their way of communicating, acting, and reacting to circumstances around them. For instance, children may learn from individuals around them to use words such as ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ while others might be influenced into becoming unfriendly through continually watching the violent actions of other older people.


Bartelt, V. L., & Dennis, A. R. (2014). Nature and nurture: The impact of automaticity. MIS Quarterly, 38(2), 521-538.

Charney, E. (2013). Nature and nurture. Perspectives on Politics, 11, 558-561.

Fox, B. (2017). It’s nature and nurture: Integrating biology and genetics into the social learning theory of criminal behavior. Journal of Criminal Justice, 49, 22-31.

Glausiusz, J. (2016). Child development: A cognitive case for un‑parenting. Nature, 536(7614), 27-28.

Harold, G. T., Leve, L. D., Barrett, D., Elam, K., Neiderhiser, J. M., Natsuaki, M. N., & Thapar, A. (2013). Biological and rearing mother influences on child ADHD symptoms: Revisiting the developmental interface between nature and nurture. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(10), 1038-1046.

Montag, C., Hahn, E., Reuter, M., Spinath, F. M., Davis, K., & Panksepp, J. (2016). The role of nature and nurture for individual differences in primary emotional systems: Evidence from a twin study. PloS One, 11(6), 21-30.

Sobrin, L., & Seddon, J. M. (2014). Nature and nurture-genes and environment-predict onset and progression of macular degeneration. Progress in Retinal and Eye Research, 40, 1-15.

Tammen, S. A., Friso, S., & Choi, S. W. (2013). Epigenetics: The link between nature and nurture. Molecular Aspects of Medicine, 34(4), 753-764.

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