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  • Created by: Holly
  • Created on: 03-06-13 22:22


  • This is a long running debate, which is interested in whether we are like the way we are because of nature (inherited and genetic) or nurture (experiences and influences after conception).
  • The nature-nurture debate can be seen as another example of determinism.
  • A nature-nurture debate is concerned with what causes something to develop. On one side, nativists see development as arising from innate factors - from inherited characteristics. On the other side, empiricists see development occurring because of experience and learning.
  • The debate is also closely linked with reductionism because extreme nativist or empiricist arguments are by definition reductionist. By saying that some aspect of behaviour is caused by solely by genes, or solely by experience could be seen as a reductionist argument.
  • There are many nature-nurture debates in psychological theory and a number of which are raised during this course. Nowadays, most psychologists see the development of behaviour differently. They see biological predispositions as guiding development in certain directions, but experience as influencing how that development manifests itself. The two sources are seen as interconnected, not as opposing alternatives, and it is the way that they interact which is the focus of interest.
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Individual or Situational

These arguments refer to where we look for the cause of behaviour.

  • Some of the core studies look for the explanation of behaviour being within the individual. For example, behaviour could be described as resulting from the individual's personality or dispositions.
  • Other core studies look for the explanation of behaviour as a result of the situation a person is in. For example, behaviour could be described as resulting from group pressure, group membership, the environment and so on.
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  • Reductionism is the argument that we can explain behaviour and experiences by reference to only one factor, such as physiology or learning.

There are many different types of reductionism.

  • Physiological reductionism, for example, argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained (or reduced to) by biological factors such as hormones or the nervous system
  • Genetic reductionism reduces all causes of behaviour to genetic inheritance.
  • Social reductionism argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained simply by the affect of groups on the individual.
  • The criticism of reductionist arguments is that they are too simplistic because they ignore the complexities of human behaviour and experience. Behaviour often has a number of different causes and to reduce the possible explanations to one level can only provide a limited understanding.
  • However, an advantage of the reductionist views is that by breaking down a phenomenon to its constituent parts it may be possible to understand the whole.This type of single mindedness has lead to some great discoveries in psychology as it has in the 'natural' sciences.
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Determinism v Free Will

This is the argument that we do not have much control over our actions but are controlled by factors such as our biology or genes, or by the way we are brought up. A consequence of this is that determinists believe that we are mainly passive responders to our past or biology and that we have no free will.

Determinists therefore believe that is possible to predict behaviour by identifying the cause of behaviour.

Although most psychologists believe in some form of determinism, many argue that hard determinism is too extreme. They argue that humans do not always act involuntary and have some control over their behaviour. This argument is known as soft determinism.

A further argument is that humans have free will. The argument is that we have the freedom to act as we want at all times. Psychologists who support the idea of free will, believe that the determinist argument is de-humanising as it treats people as if they were machines.

However, much of the research you will come across whilst studying psychology does not support the view that behaviour is unpredictable. It is possible to identify behaviour patterns which, to some extent, do seem predictable.

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Ethnocentric bias

This is the tendency to perceive the world from your own cultural group, such as your ethnic group, national group and so on. A consequence of this is that explanations may only work for certain cultural groups.

Most of the well known psychological research reported from before the 1980s was carried out in American universities using White, middle-class undergraduate students who are hardly representative of anybody other than American, White, middle-class undergraduate students. Therefore we have to question the findings of studies which attempt to generalise their findings to the population as a whole. 

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