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The Influence of Nature and Nurture on Human Behavior Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 18th, 2021


According to (Moore, 2003), the issue of whether nature has more impact than nurture on ways in which human beings behave has been debated upon for quite some time, where each individual is found to support either of the two according to experience or perceptions. Nature concerns itself with the natural internal qualities possessed by human beings. On the other hand, nurture concerns itself with experiences that human beings have acquired from the environment in which they live. The debate involves how these two factors determine the behavioral as well as physical characteristics of human beings and ways in which they vary. The particular roles of nurture and nature are portrayed in various areas and stages of lives of human beings.

Historical Background

The debate on how nurture as well as nature contributes to behavior of human beings can be traced to historical times. From the nineteenth century to early the twentieth century, opinions were found to consider nature as the determinant of human behavior. This was mainly supported by scientific research on the role played by genes that are inherited by offsprings. Another study that supported nature is natural selection that was conducted by Charles Darwin. Galton wrote a book called “hereditary nature” where he argued that, those people who possessed various gifts were found to originate from parents or family backgrounds that had similar kinds of gifts. He supported his arguments by an analysis that he carried on concerning talents and various professions where he concluded that, they were inherited from particular parents who possessed such talents. He also argued that, character traits improve or get worse throughout generations depending on the traits of parents. However, after the First World War, more research was carried out on the issue of the roles of nurture as well as nature. This particular research challenged the views that were in support of nature as the sole determinant of human beings’ behavior and argued that nurture was a major contributing factor to ways in which human beings behaved (Moore, 2003).


According to (Bouchard, 1997), supporters of nurture argue that, the manner in which human beings behave is primarily determined by the environment in which they are brought up. This particular argument has been supported by several studies performed on the various types of temperaments possessed by children. For example, John Watson, an American psychologist performed an experiment on a young boy which showed that, phobia is as a result of classical conditioning. He argued that, if he was to be given some healthy infants, he would apply his own knowledge to equip them with skills of his choice and they would end up in different specializations regardless of their abilities, race, genetic characteristics and talents.

(Steele, 1981), found that the theory of nurture was also supported by Skinner, another psychologist, who performed experiments using pigeons. He took his time to train them on various dancing styles, which they imitated and after some time they could dance as directed. He also trained them on how to play tennis and twist their bodies to make figure eight which they did as well. These experiments made him to be considered as the founder of the science that deals with behavior. From experiments that he carried out on animals, he inferred that it’s possible to condition the behavior of human beings in a similar manner. This inference supported the fact that human behavior is a product of what is learnt through experience acquired in one’s surroundings.

Another study done by scientists, show that human beings acquire their humor through learning. Acquisition of humor is influenced by the type of culture that one grows up in or the kind of family set up that one is brought up in. For example, if one grows up in a family where people are jovial, peaceful and make a lot of jokes, then he/she will grow up a jovial person who is full of humor which will have been learnt from the environment surrounding him. A study of the behavior portrayed by identical twins show that, when brought up in different environments, they acquire very different behavioral traits showing that nurture plays a very big role in determining the type of traits acquired by human beings. (Bridgeman, 2003)

Debate In Support Of Nature

(Maroni, 2000), found that, the color of hair as well as that of eyes is determined by genes. Supporters of the theory of nature also argue that, traits such as aggression, sexual orientation and intelligence are determined by genes. Therefore, various types of genes have been studied so as to show how nature plays its role in determination of behavior. However, these arguments are feared to be used by some people as an excuse for their bad behavior. This is because; some people are found to argue that, since one or both of their parents or someone in their extended family was a criminal, he/she can do nothing to his/her criminal behavior because its inherited. Others argue that, since their parents are divorced, they too cannot escape it because; even if they marry they will have to divorce. This is a negative application of the transfer of genes through inheritance as people tend to stick to negative behavior since their parents had the same. Possession of the gene that makes people to become gay has also been used to explain the role of nature in its determination of behavior. Studies have shown that, genes determine the ways in which various people are oriented sexually. It is argued that, sexual behavior is usually encoded in one’s genes and that, one does not choose whether to become gay or not. Gay individuals are therefore believed to be naturally attracted to people of a similar sex which comes out without their knowledge and cannot be controlled.

However, debate suggests that, both nurture and nature play essential roles in determining the manner in which human beings behave. This is because; some behavior is usually engrained in human beings before birth, while others develop during interaction with their surrounding environment. Therefore, it is agreed that, the way in which genes are related to behavior greatly differs with the way in which causes are related to their consequential effects. This is because; one’s genes may give a probability of a certain behavior but does not guarantee or restrict someone to behave in that particular manner. This gives individuals an opportunity to decide what they want to become, where environment and their effort takes charge (Lindsay, 2000).

Interaction of Nurture and Nature

It has been found that, there exist minimal instances where behavior can be taken to be entirely caused by nurture or entirely as a result of nature. For example, a study on some “genetic” diseases like Huntington disease show that, there is a high percentage of possession of the gene that causes it as well as the disease which is similar to the percentage that shows a lack of both. However, the lives of those animals that already have this disease entirely depend on the level of care they get. That is, those that get quality animal husbandry live for a longer time than those that are not taken good cared of. Therefore, though nature causes Huntington’s disease, nurture takes control of the length of life that the sick animals will live. On the contrary, some characteristics of human beings are determined by nurture among them being someone’s native language. It is argued that, children have the ability to learn languages of their choice when they are provided with the necessary facilities to enable them learn. This means that, the language spoken by any individual is not in any case determined by genes or inherited but by the environment in which people leave. Therefore, nurture and nature work together in the determination of behavior in human beings.

Another example of their interaction is an experiment that was carried out by Pinker on the religion as well as language spoken by human beings. Results to his experiment showed that, one’s religion, language as well as political party is not determined by genes. However, on acquisition of the specific choices, characteristics that show temperaments and skills in the form of how well one can communicate in a certain language, how one behaves in his /her political party or the level of commitment to a certain religion are to some extent determined by one’s inherited genes (Lindsay, 2000).

Therefore, when characteristics of human beings’ behavior are caused by interactions of nurture and nature, the level of heritability can only be measured through variations that exist in a given population. But there are cases where scientists have been noticed to assume that, if a particular level of heritability is noticed in a certain trait, that trait has been purely determined by nature, not taking into account the possibility of nurture been involved in some way. However, this should not be case as both determinants play roles in determination of the traits acquired by human beings though their levels of association or involvement vary in different traits (Stuart, 1999).

IQ And Personality Debate

This debate has attracted a wide range of arguments and suggestions where studies of twins who are identical and fraternal are used. Adopted children are also used for comparison purposes. Studies that support the role played by nature in determination human beings’ IQ argue that, the IQ of those twins who are identical has a high level of similarity even when the two are reared separately. Those supporting nature say that the high level of similarity is caused by their shared genes from the environment they were inside their mothers’ womb. Further studies show that, similarity of IQ diminishes as one moves from twins, to fraternal, to adopted children and finally to strangers. On the contrary, studies supporting nurture argue something different altogether. For example, James Flynn, a political scientist noticed that, the level of human beings’ IQ was accelerating with time. His arguments suggested that, the level of IQ is determined by environmental factors that children are exposed to as they grow up. These environmental factors include, diet, education and the level of IQ of those people with whom children interact with.

Flynn argued that, the complexity of visual images that people are exposed to through advertisements, computer games and posters increase their levels of IQ. Other environmental aspects that tend to affect IQ levels include infant malnutrition where those children who suffer malnutrition possess low levels of IQ as they lack enough energy to reason as well as other nutrients required in reasoning. The profession of parents also matters as it tends to motivate the child in one way or another if it happens to be good. Consequently, studies show that most children tend to follow the professions of their parents as children are likely to imitate their parents. This trend makes the IQ of those children to be determined by the profession and not genes acquired from parents. Another factor that may affect children’s level of IQ is the parental ambition as well as rigidity. A child whose parents are ambitious is likely to be exposed to issues that would in one way or another increase his/her IQ while rigid parents are likely to cause rigidity in their children resulting to lowering their IQ levels (Stuart, 1999).


The manner in which people behave is caused or determined by both nurture and nature. However, involvement of each of them varies depending on the kind of trait in question. Scientists have contributed to this particular debate by performing studies that are directed at differentiating roles played by nature and those played by nurture. Though it is not possible to give an exact estimation of their involvement, it can be concluded that, genes only determine one’s behavior up to a certain age where environment in which he/she is brought up takes over. (Becker, 2002)


  1. Becker B. (2002): Behavioral endocrinology: MIT Press pp33-38
  2. Bouchard C. (1997): Genetics of fitness and physical performance: Human Kinetics pp. 23-27
  3. Bridgeman B. (2003): Psychology and evolution: Sage Publications pp. 31-36
  4. Lindsay S. (2000): Adaptation and Learning: Wiley-Blackwell pp. 54-59
  5. Maroni G. (2000): Molecular and genetic analysis of human traits: Wiley-Blackwell pp. 13-16
  6. Moore D. (2003): The Fallacy of nature Vs Nurture: Henry Holt pp. 59-65
  7. Steele J. (1981): On the inheritance of acquired characters: University of Chicago Press pp. 19-24
  8. Stuart I. (1999): Key ideas in psychology: Jessica Kingsley publishers pp. 11-16
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