Issues and Debates


Nature v.s Nuture

Free Will v.s Determinism


Animal Research

Culture Bias

Gender Bias

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Nature v.s Nurture; Overview

  • This is the debate over which has more influence over shaping and determining an INDVS characteristics and abilities; (relative) genetic factors or environmental factors.
  • There are two (main) standpoints related to this debate;

1) Nativists - They support the nature side of the argument. They believe that all behaviour is hereditary and is totally the result of biological influences.

2) Empiricists - They support the conflicting side of the debate, nurture. They believe that the environment plays the biggest role in shaping behaviours, we begin as a 'blank slate' upon which the environment 'writes' on us so to speak!

  • The actual debate has changed over time, (Anastasi argues this) from;

1) Whether Nat or Nurt was responsible for behaviour

2) How much behaviour is affected by Nat and how much is affected by Nurt

3) How both Nat and Nurt interact to shape our behaviours. (The most recent development!)

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How Nature and Nurture Interact

There are 3 main ways that the two standpoints can interact;

1) Nature affecting Nurture: This can be divided into 3 sub-areas;

a) Passive: Where the parents inherited behaviours (Nat) create an environment (Nurt) for the child to grow up in.

b) Active: The child has a genetic preference (Nat) for environments (Nurt) which it then seeks out

c) Reactive: When a childs inherited behaviour (Nat) makes parents and others react to them. (Nurt: this is because a new environment is created where the child is reacted to)

2) Nurture affecting Nature: When our experiences and environment (Nurt) can lead to biological changes (Nat - for example brain functioning)

3) Nature via nurture: Most recent, this states that genes (Nat) do affect our behaviour, but only when they are 'activated' by specific environmental 'triggers', (Nurt) for instance life stress.

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Free Will and Determinism; Overview

This issue questions how much control humans have over their behaviour. 

 Free Will: Argues that humans are in control of their behaviour and we have free choice to behave as we wish. For example, how much effort we put into a task.

Determinism:  Argue that behaviour is the result of forces over which we have no control.

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There are two main types of determinism:

Biological determinism: Behaviour is a result of internal factors, over which we have no control. This includes:

  • Our genetics
  • Chemical changes in the brain (such as imbalances)
  • Biological needs
  • Evolutionary needs

Environmental determinism: Behaviour is a result of external factors over which we have no control. This includes:

  • Environmental stimuli (such as temperature)
  • Our learning experiences (such as upbringing)
  • Behavioural conditioning (such as phobia development)
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Evaluation of Determinism


  • It supports the scientific approach to psychology, as science does not consider free will
  • It allows for clear solutions to behavioural problems (such as medication to treat mental disorders)
  • Because it emphasises prediction we can plan ahead as to how people wil respond to new environments
  • It removes blame for behaviours


  • Human behaviour is unpredictable and is a mix of lots of different forces
  • Unfalsifiable - (Not capable of being proved false) Even if a cause for behaviour cant be found, it just means we havent been able to discover it yet. 
  • Ignores free will, we can plan and make free choices (Plato, Descartes)
  • But as well as removing blame, it also removes responsibility for behaviours.
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Reductionism is the belief that we can reduce explanations of behaviour to their simplest forms. The approach states the best way to study behaviour is by looking for single causes. It also supports the scientific approach, strong believers say that both behavioural and mental processes can be explained with basic sciences. 

Examples of reductionism include:

Behaviourism: All behaviour is a result of Stimulus - Response associations as well as positive/negative reinforcement. 

Biological explanations of mental disorders: Complex disorders such as schizophrenia can be explained by chemical imbalances in the brain.

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Holism v.s Reductionism

This approach challenges the reductionist approach, by saying that instead of there being just one single cause for behaviours, there are infact a number of single causes that all interact to explain behaviour. These are called levels of explanation.

Many levels of explanation can interact to show many perspectives of the explanation of behaviours.  

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Evaluation of Reductionism


  • Some behaviours can be described in terms of single causes.
  • It can lead to new explanations to further increase our knowledge.
  • Removes responsibility from undesirable behaviours.
  • Cause and effect approach can lead to simple treatment for behaviours e.g. Antidepressants


  • Ignores important interactions, the approach is too simplistic.
  • Remove the (cultural) significance of our actions
  • Is the mind the same as the brain? Reductionism says yes.
  • Is human behaviour too complex to be explained in this way?
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The Use of Animals in Research

Can we justify using animals for psychological research? Is the scientific quality of results produced enough to make the use of animals ethically acceptable? 


  • Can provide useful information to alleviate human suffering.
  • It gives us greater control and objectivity (based on facts rather than feelings)
  • Can determine whether or not to use humans in research. We can then establish cause and effect relationships.
  • You can study inter-generational relationships (animals have a short lifespan)


  • It is harder to extrapolate findings to humans (hard to apply findings), lowering validity.
  • Animal behaviour is considered less complex than human behaviour, animal research is considered reductionist.
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Culture Bias

This issue focuses on the fact that most researcch is carried out by a limited cultural group and then findings are then generalised to the majority of humans. 

Ethnocentrism & Eurocentrism

Ethnocentrism is when we look at behaviour from our own cultural perspective; our own values and beliefs. Eurocentrism is the same, but from a European perspective.

Individualistic & Collectivist

Individualistic cultures focus on individual success, independence and personal achievement. (Me + I) But, collectivist cultures focus on the group and interdependence. (We + us)

Emic v,s Etic

Etic analysis looks for universal behaviours and applies the domininat (western) cultures values onto the behaviour of other cultures. Emic uses the values and beliefs from the culture the behaviour is from.

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Gender Bias

There are two types of gender bias which are:

Alpha Bias: This is the exaggeration of the differences between the sexes. Theories suggest that there are real and enduring differences between the sexes, some of them heighten the value of women (E.g. Gilligan) whilst others devalue women. (e.g. Freud) They may also exaggerate differences from a:

  • Androcentric - Male point of view
  • Estrocentric - Female point of view

Beta Bias: This is the exaggeration of the similarities whilst ignoring the differences between the sexes. For example, thinking that findings from studies apply equally well to females. 

This may occur because research is influenced by the psychologists values, beliefs etc. Differences are often seen as biological and so internal. (placing females at a disadvantage)

Feminists aregue these differences are socially constructed. Some researhc emphasises gender stereotypes, which can affect the real world.

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