The Nature/Nurture Debate


The Nature/Nurture Debate

Nature- Genetic inheritance and other biological factors 

Nurture- The influence of external factors after conception such as, social and environmental factors. 

The Debate 

Focusses on the influences on human behaviour

Certain physical characteristics biologically determined by genetic inheritance e.g. eye colour, skin colour, body shape. 

There's a debate as to whether pyschological characteristics are 'wired' in before a child is born or whether they are influenced by the environment e.g. personality, mental health/illness, mannerism, emotions and language. 

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Research Supporting The 'Nature Debate'

Bowlby's theory of attachment is a biological perspective of development as it explains the bonds between mother and child as being intimate. 

Chomsky's proposal that all language is developed through the use of an inate language acquisition device also comes from a biological perspective. 

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Development linked to The Nature Debate

The nature perspective is based on an assumption that all individuals have an inner 'biological clock' that determines when and at what rate physical development will progress. 

Gesell was interested in children's maturation- used 'normative approach' to reasearching children, observed large numbers of children to find the skills and abilities that most children had in each age group. His findings were used to create milestones (norms) for each developmental group. Gesell found that children moved through the sequence at their own pace. He concluded that development was predetermined and that the environment had little impact. 

Delayed development is hereditary not environmental. 

A criticism is that it's not very helpful in explaining individual or cultural differences of for children with learning difficulties. 

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Development as a result of environmental factors-

Positive Reinforcement- the behaviour is repeated because of personal satisfaction (intrinsic reinforcement) or rewards (extrinsic reinforcement). 

Negative Reinforcement- the behaviour is not repeated to avoid an adverse experience, such as lack of satisfaction or to avoid being told off.

Bandura's social learning theory is based on observation of learning which are influenced by observing the behaviour of others. 

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The Nurture Debate

Four Stages of Behavioural Learning 

  • The child observes the behaviour of another person such as an older sibling or parent. 
  • The child 'internalises' the action by remembering what they have observed. 
  • Although they will not copy straight away, the child will repeat the behaviour when the opportunity occurs. 
  • Depending on the outcome (positive/negative reinforcement) children will either repeat or desist the behaviour. 

Overall, Bandura suggested that children learn behaviour through observation and imitation. 

This links to the importance of modelling appropriate behaviours around children. 

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Stress-Diathesis Model

Diathesis- a predisposition or vulnerability to a mental disorder through an abnormality of the brain or neurotransmitters.  

This model helps to explain how stress caused by life events (nurture) can interact with an individual's genetic vulnerability (nature) to impact on their mental wellbeing. 

Some individuals are born with certain biological or genetic predispositions to mental illness, referred to as diathesis. 

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Stress-Diathesis Model 2

A person who has a genetic predisposition to a pyschological disorder might never develop the disorder if they do not experience stress in their life. 

High levels of stress, such as, family conflict, abuse, trauma, or problems at school could trigger the onset for those with a predisposition. 


Whilst these theories are useful guidance they do not provide answers as to whether development throughout lifespan is down to nature or nurture. 

It is more useful to say that hereditary and environmental factors (nature and nurture) interact to influence the type of person an individual becomes and the type of behaviour they display. 

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  • Height
  • Eye colour
  • Hair colour 
  • Skin colour


  • Interests 
  • Hobbies 
  • Friends


  • Weight 
  • Behaviour
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