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THE NATURE/NURTURE DEBATE
FREE WILL AND DETERMINISM
The nature/nurture debate suggests that people are either (mainly)
the product of their genes and biology (nature) or of their
environment (nurture). Nature does not simply refer to abilities Determinism is the view that an individual's behaviour is
present at birth but to any ability determined by genes, including shaped or controlled by internal or external forces rather than
those that appear through maturation. `Nurture' is everything an individual's will to do something. This means that
learned through interactions with the environment, both the behaviour is predictable and lawful. `Free will' is used to refer
physical and social environment, and may be more widely referred to the alternative end position where an individual is seen as
to as `experience'. At one time nature and nurture were seen as being capable of self-determination. According to this view,
largely independent and additive factors, however a more individuals have an active role in controlling their behaviour, i.
contemporary view is that the two processes do e. they are free to choose and are not acting in response to
not just interact but are inextricably entwined. It is any external or internal (biological) pressures.
no longer really a debate at all but a new Any approach, such as behaviourism or the biological
understanding of genetics works. approach, which takes the view that our behaviour is
Nature and nurture explanations are determined by factors other than our free will, implies that
often viewed as highly determinist. However, this people are not personally responsible for their behaviour. For
determinist interpretation is mistaken; example, according to the biological approach, low levels of
evolutionary psychologists, for example, suggest serotonin may lead some individuals to behave aggressively.
that genes only predispose us to behave in
certain ways, but this does not dictate what
individuals choose to do. Other factors also determine
behaviour, such as the culture in which we live, and
DEBATES The poses a moral question about whether a person can be
held personally responsible for their behaviour. We might
argue that this is not acceptable, that people must be held
responsible for their behaviour, and this kind of argument is
ultimately our personal experiences and decisions. This therefore a limitation of such determinist explanations.
Is another example of nature interacting with nurture.
There are other debates that concern psychologists. For example,
Reductionism involves breaking down a complex phenomenon into more the question of whether psychology is a science and the
simple components. It also implies that this process is desirable because desirability of quantitative versus qualitative approaches. A
complex phenomena are best understood in terms of a simpler level of related debate is between idiographic and nomothetic
explanation. Psychologists (and all scientists) are drawn to reductionist approaches. The idiographic approach involves the study of
explanations and methods of research because reductionism is a powerful individuals and the unique insights each individual gives us into
tool that underlies experimental research (reducing complex behaviour to human behaviour. It is the approach favoured by humanistic
a set of variables). psychology and also the approach taken by Freud in his case
Many explanations that are determinist are also reductionist, histories. The idiographic approach typically uses qualitative
such as behaviourist or psychodynamic explanations. Reductionist methods. The nomothetic approach involves the study of a large
explanations may prevent psychologists investigating other explanations number of people and then seeks to make generalisations or
for behaviour. For example, a therapist may accept a simple behaviourist develop laws/theories about their behaviour. The biological,
explanation for mental illness and this would then prevent them from behaviourist and cognitive approaches are concerned with general
seeking more complex explanations, such as the effect of emotional laws of behaviour, and this is the goal of the scientific approach.
relationships in a family.…read more
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THE BEHAVIOURAL APPROACH THE PSYCHODYNAMIC APPROACH
Behaviourism was first formulated around the beginning of the The essence of a psychodynamic approach is to explain behaviour in terms of its
twentieth century. Behaviourists believe that all behaviour is dynamics i.e. the forces that drive it. The best-know example of this approach is
acquired through learning that we are born as a `blank slate'. They Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, although there are many other
also believe that behaviour is all that should concern psychologists psychodynamic theories based on refinements of Freud's ideas.
which is why the approach is called The main features of Freud's theory are that:
behaviourism. Behaviourists do not think it · Early experiences have a lasting effect on our personality and
necessary to invoke mental concepts or behaviour.
analyse thoughts and feelings. They explain · Our behaviour is also affected by interactions between the id
all behaviour in terms of classical conditioning (driven by the pleasure principle), ego (driven by the reality
and operant conditioning. principle) and superego (the ideal self and conscience).
A later development of · Conflicts between the id, ego and superego may lead to
behaviourism social learning theory (SLT) was repressed emotions repressed into the unconscious mind
introduced by Albert Bandura in the 1960s. This where they exert an influence on our behaviour.
emphasises the importance of indirect reinforcement in STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS
the learning process. In order for social learning to take
place, an individual must form mental representations of A strength of psychoanalytic theory is that it
events. Therefore SLT, unlike behaviourism, recognises the importance of unconscious
includes the consideration of internal
cognitive states such as memory.
STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS
APPROACHES factors and the complexity of human
behaviour and motivations, something
ignored by the Behaviourist approach.
The main objection to Freud's theory is that it is not truly scientific
A strength of behaviourist explanations is that they provide clear because it is difficult to falsify. For example, a person may admit to
predictions, for example, about the effects of rewards or the negative feelings about their father or may deny such feelings but
consequences of associating two variables (classical conditioning). such denial could be taken to indicate that they are simply
This means that the explanations can be tested easily and `proven'. repressing such feelings. In other words whatever the person says
According to Popper, a good theory or explanation must be could be taken to indicate negative feelings. Popper (1963)
falsifiable and this is true of behaviourist explanations. suggested that Freud's theory was unfalsifiable and therefore
A limitation of behaviourist explanations is that, while they pseudoscientific.
undoubtedly do explain some aspects of behaviour, this is at best a
partial account. Important factors are not included, such as
emotion, expectations, higher-level motivation and so on. Accepting
behaviourist explanations (for example, for mental disorders) can
prevent further research that could uncover other important
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THE BIOLOGICAL APPROACH THE EVOLUTIONARY APPROACH
The biological approach aims to explain all behaviour and The evolutionary approach explains behaviour in terms of the selective pressures that
experience in terms of physical bodily processes. For example, have shaped it. Any behaviour that can be observed is likely to have been perpetuated
when you feel stressed this usually involves the sensation of your because it is adaptive and thus has either been naturally selected (i.e. individuals who
heart pounding, your palms being sweaty and so on. These are are best adapted survive and reproduce) or sexually selected (i.e. individuals who are
physical symptoms created by activation of the sympathetic branch most successful at gaining access to mates leave behind more
of the autonomic nervous system and offspring). The measure of evolutionary success is reproductive fitness i.e. an
the activity of the hormone adrenaline. individual's reproductive outcomes (usually number of
Biological explanations may also offspring) relative to other individuals in the group. Evolutionary
involve neurotransmitters, for example, psychologists suggest that such selection took place largely in the EEA
explaining depression in terms of low levels (environment of evolutionary adaptation).
of serotonin or explaining schizophrenia in STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS
terms of high levels of dopamine.
The biological approach One strength of evolutionary theory is that it is able to explain
also includes genetic explanations i.e. behaviours that appear dysfunctional (such as anorexia) or make little
Explanations that certain behaviours sense in a modern context (for example
are inherited from your parents (nature). experiencing a biological stress response
when you realise you are overdrawn at the
Some characteristics are determined by
one gene (e.g. eye colour) whereas for
most characteristics (e.g. intelligence or
mental illness) many genes are involved.
APPROACHES bank). One of the limitations of this approach
is that evolutionary explanations often fail to
sufficiently acknowledge the importance of cultural influences on our
behaviour. For example, evolutionary influences lead men to select
STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS physically attractive women but the exact details of what constitutes
A strength of the biological approach is that, like the behaviourist physical attractiveness is partly determined by culture.
approach, it provides clear predictions, for example, about the
effects of neurotransmitters or the behaviour of people who are
genetically related. This means that the explanations can be tested
easily and `proven' according to Popper, a good theory or THE COGNITIVE APPROACH
explanation must be falsifiable and this is true of biological
The emphasis of the cognitive approach is on how thinking shapes our
One of the main limitations is that biological explanations
are rarely the whole story. For example, genes generally predispose behaviour quite the opposite of the behaviourist approach where the concept of the
an individual to certain behaviours i.e. they create a diathesis (as in mind is banished from any explanations. The cognitive approach is more recent than the
the diathesis-stress model of mental illness). This explains why, for others outlined here, emerging in the 1950s along with the information processing
example, we do not find that identical twins show identical revolution. A cognitive psychologist explains all behaviour in terms of thoughts, beliefs
behaviour. and attitudes, and studies how these direct our behaviour.
STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS
The approach lends itself to scientific research because the explanations produces
hypotheses which can be easily tested, such as in the case of theories of memory and
However, the cognitive approach has been criticised for being overly
mechanistic, as well as for lacking social, motivational and emotional factors.…read more