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Nature versus Nurture Essay

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Updated: Nov 29th, 2019


The human race has elicited many unrelenting controversies concerning the different aspects of its existence. These controversies often yield debates that sometimes develop from simple arguments aimed at understanding individual behavioral differences to become politically motivated disputes over distributive justice and societal power (McLeod par. 12).

A prime example of this nature of debates is the debate on whether nature or nurture has a greater bearing on the development of the diverse individual behavioral differences that exist. This age-old debate neither shows any indication of ending soon nor identifying which of the two factors has more influence on behavioral differences.

Researchers and scholars have conducted numerous studies over the same, but the have not settled this debate. This paper seeks to explore this debate in the light of a recent article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal, “Nature vs. Nurture: New Science Stirs Debate How Behavior Is Shaped; Who’s an Orchid, Who’s a Dandelion”, in a bid to establish what it adds to already existing body of literature on this controversy.

A Synopsis of the Article

The article in question, Nature vs. Nurture: New Science Stirs Debate How Behavior is Shaped; Who’s an Orchid, Who’s a Dandelion, featured in The Wall Street Journal on September 16, 2013 with Jonathan Rockoff as the author.

The article opens by noting that researchers are moving closer to explaining how nature rather than nurture has more influence on human behavior as the extent of individuals’ sensitivity to external influences varies based on the biological composition of their nervous system (Rockoff par. 3). As such, some individuals are more susceptible to external influences than others are. Individuals that are more susceptible are termed as ‘orchids’ while the less susceptible types are termed as ‘dandelions’ (Rockoff par. 3).

A baffling finding is that orchids will perform very poorly in adverse environments, but they will thrive under optimum conditions in contrast to dandelions (Rockoff par. 5). This observation was confirmed by a 2010 study in the Journal of Child Development, which showed children performing poorly under fighting parents, but became best performers under a happier home life.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences also supports this position by asserting that under adverse economic conditions, environmentally sensitive mothers (orchids) were very harsh with their children, but under better economic circumstances, they parented their children better than non sensitive mothers (dandelions) (Rockoff par. 7).

These findings have escalated the nature-nurture debate once again, but even so, a lot remains unknown over environmental susceptibility, and thus it is tentatively arguable that people have both orchid and dandelion traits to varying degrees. Critics have faulted the evidence provided noting that a more rigorous study is necessary.

However, despite such calls from critics, an analysis of 15 studies, which incorporated up to 1200 children as conducted in 2011 by Dr. Van IJzendoorn among others, confirmed that dopamine production in an individual had a bearing on environmental susceptibility (Rockoff par. 20).

An Analysis of the Article

This article, like other literature on the nature-nurture debate, explicitly outlines the dilemma that researchers and other experts in the field of psychology find themselves in over the issue.

Proponents of each side conduct their studies and attempt to pitch their side as the most influential on behavioral development. However, every time a researcher does this, critics find gaping holes in the explanations offered just like in this article. Eventually, the debate remains hanging in the balance without a clear concept of the side that has more influence on behavioral development.

This article argues in favor of biological determinism by presenting empirical evidence from several studies, which seems to make it reputable, but critics refute it on the grounds of the credibility of the evidence presented. For instance, it is noted that orchids are susceptible to environmental influence, but the type of influence they are susceptible to is not specified.

Assuming that they are susceptible to every form of influence that comes their way would be erroneous as noted by one of the critics (Rockoff par. 17). Personally, I do not agree with the research findings in the article because even though the studies were conducted, they do not present adequate ground for researchers to make the conclusions they made.

It is true that dopamine might influence environmental susceptibility as concluded in the article. However, the study also needed to specify the kind of susceptibility it influences because without this element, it follows that all orchids in the same surroundings are supposed to manifest identical traits. Concisely, the findings of the studies are incomplete and are thus unacceptable.

The significance of this article insofar as the field of psychology is concerned stems from the fact it stimulates the minds of researchers towards an idea that might have eluded them for a long time. It points out the significance of dopamine in influencing environmental susceptibility among individuals.

Though this point does not comprehensively explain how biological determinism plays a bigger role in dictating behavior, it begins to outline how the genetic code of an individual affects how s/he interacts with the environment. In essence, it begins to indicate that nature does not influence behavior, but it determines how the individual interacts or s/he is affected by the environment. In this sense, both genetic composition and the environment interact to determine behavior.

This perspective concurs with studies conducted by Evans (423-51) to determine the influence of the physical environment on behavior. The studies were conducted to find out the influence of noise, crowding, and the quality of housing and neighborhood on the behavior of children. The study of the influence of noise on behavior revealed that children’s reading abilities and cognitive development are adversely affected by noise through delays in the ability to read and interfering with long-term memory respectively.

The studies also found out that teachers in noisy environments become more exhausted, irritable, and impatient with learners, thus affecting the cognitive development of learners. These studies clearly indicate that the physical environment has a significant bearing on the behavioral development of an individual.

This assertion stems from the fact that noise had an effect on the students as well as teachers and crowding had an effect on both the child and the parent. The effect of these environmental factors on the child is magnified by the fact that the child is subjected to the direct influence of the factors coupled with the indirect influence that come from the influence of these factors on the teacher or parent.

It is noteworthy to point out that though several children may be subjected to the same noise levels and same extent of crowding, their behavior patterns cannot turn out to be exactly similar. This observation implies that even though the environment may influence behavior as established by these studies, it can only do so depending on every individual’s unique personal characteristics.

The effect of the environment is the same on all, but the behavior of every individual will remain different even if there were some similarities. This assertion means that the influence of the environment combines with an individual’s unique trait to yield a certain behavior pattern. This aspect points to the flaws in the study by Evans (423-51) because it fails to consider that the same environmental factors can still yield different behavior patterns within a group.


This paper sought to explore the article on Nature vs. Nurture by Rockoff in a bid to find its placement within the body of literature on this debate in the field of psychology. The article endeavors to pitch biological determinism as being superior to environmental influence insofar as behavioral development is concerned. A 2010 study in the Journal Child Development and a study by the National Academy of Sciences both espouse the idea that some individuals are more susceptible to environmental influence than others are as aforementioned.

The article, like other literature on this subject, only adds to the confusion that already exists since critics of the studies that were cited in the article rightly refute the findings on the grounds of their credibility and authenticity. A careful consideration of the ideas espoused by the article and opponents of such ideas shows that the environment acts on an individual’s innate abilities to produce a unique pattern of behavior for every individual.

Works Cited

Evans, Gary. “Child Development and the Physical Environment.” Annual Review of Psychology 57(2006): 423-451. Print.

McLeod, Saul. , 2007. Web.

Rockoff, Jonathan. Nature vs. Nurture: New Science Stirs Debate – How Behavior Is Shaped; Who’s an Orchid, Who’s a Dandelion, 2013. Web.

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