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Knotmyday's avatar

Nature or Nurture?

Asked by Knotmyday (7483points) July 17th, 2008

Are we shaped by our environment, or are we a product of genetic propensity? Not sure which camp I’m in.

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19 Answers

delirium's avatar

Short answer: Both.

Long answer: Later.

marinelife's avatar

I agree with the current thinking that genetics shapes much more of the details of what makes us “us” than I would have liked to believe.

tinyfaery's avatar

In a lot of ways I believe culture has superceded nature when it comes to who we are as human beings. But really, its the interaction of the two that determines who we become.

scamp's avatar

I agree with delirium , both.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

both. I’m pretty sure its impossible to be completely one or the other

Knotmyday's avatar

Alright, all you fence-sitters. Supposing your biological mom was a thieving prostitute, and your biological dad a pedophilic extorter with a penchant for horse-buggery.

You were orphaned at birth, and adopted as an infant by loving, idealistic parents, and raised in relative low-key, semi-idyllic, semi-dysfunctional “normal” surroundings.

What do you become???

50/50? A half-normal, half prostituting horse-buggerer? What college do you attend? Have you joined a club?

or are the answers really just that banal?

arnbev959's avatar

Yeah, I’m with knot. We can start our own club! It’s nurture for the most part.

gilgamesh's avatar

hmm i do believe both too

although i was reading somewhere that the decisions you do make somehow do change the growth of the brain and the chemistry. Then again, nature and nurture are relative terms to what people think they are.

whatthefluther's avatar

It varies by trait. For example, whereas blood type is genetically determined, a persons weight would be the result of both environmental and genetic factors and whether you become a thieving prostitute in knotmydays example above would be predominately determined by the environment.

Poser's avatar

Don’t confuse traits with behaviors. While there may be behavioral traits or penchants that can be genetically inherited (such as addictive personalities or intelligence), our decisions as to how we behave are largely influenced by our environment. Horse buggering and prostitution would be examples of behaviors largely influenced by environment.

Now, if your bio-dad was an alcoholic and your bio-mom was a meth addict, and you were adopted at birth by a strict Muslim family who stressed the inherent evil in mind and body-altering substances, your behavior would less likely be that of an alcoholic or drug addict than a fundamentalist Muslim.

However, if you decided to turn away from your faith (unlikely if your experiences with it had been largely positive all your life) and partake in such behaviors as drinking and doing drugs, you would likely have a higher than average chance of becoming addicted.

KimberlyLD's avatar

There is so much that we don’t understand about both, it hard not to be a fence sitter! I’m going to say both as well. There are many people who are a product of their environment, and just as many who are a product of their biology, and somewhere along the way, there are people who are a conglomeration of both.

The parents who do everything “by the book” and still end up with a severely emotionally disturbed or psychopathic child, is it their fault? Or was it inevitable? Both? Neither?

The child who has no parents to raise him/her they live with “parents” but raise themselves and become an Ivy League valedictorian and pursue a career in a public service. Is it in spite of their parents? Because of their parents? Or because the child was an “old soul” and was “predestined”?

It’s akin to the fate/destiny discussion, everyone will believe what they can. What works for them and their family/environment

No one really knows the psychology and physiology of this and it will be many generations before anyone will… there are too many variables to define.

skfinkel's avatar

Funny that we only have two choices—in days of yore or other cultures they might have added the star under which you were born or the year in which you were born.

Genetics is important—and can’t be denied. And neither can nurture. We see good genetics ruined by bad nurturing. And great nurturing limited in some ways by genetic predispositions.

The goal is to create a nurturing environment that is so juicy with great stuff, that whatever is there genetically can flourish.

wildflower's avatar

I think we have a natural disposition, which we are born with, but how it’s developed, adapted and adjusted is all down to our surroundings and experiences.

wildflower's avatar

Oh, just thought of an interesting – although fictional – example: Dexter

syz's avatar

Clearly the topic is too huge in scope for such a simplistic answer as one or the other. I think that it’s fairly well recognized that both aspects have varying influence over the huge array of components of what makes us what we are.

nikipedia's avatar

Saying it’s both isn’t fence-sitting; it’s accurate. And I want to echo what @whatthefluther said about it varying by trait. Something like Huntington’s disease is 100% genetic. Something like major depression is…well…no one knows for sure, but the experts in psychiatric genetics estimate the heritability at around 50% (the genetics of depression is a project I am working on now, so am happy to discuss this at length).

Another thing that complicates this “pick one or the other!” conflict is that you have to consider the way that genes and environment interact to shape each other. I have the genes of a short, reasonably smart, white girl. This means that my environment, in the form of people I encounter, is going to respond differently to me than if I were a minority, if I were male, if I were very tall, if I were very beautiful, if I were very ugly, etc. For instance, I think I probably have gotten less respect as a scientist because I’m female (environment interacting with genes). But this has probably made me more tenacious (environment interacting with environment). But I maybe had a predisposition to be very ambitious and self-promoting (genes interacting with environment). And so on.

So to address your example, I think it’s like anything else—it’s all in the details. Was my biological mom a stealing-bread-and-turning-tricks-to-feed-her-family thieving prostitute, or did she have antisocial personality disorder? Was my father a pedophile because of early childhood trauma or again, some kind of psychopathology with a genetic basis? If their pathologies did have a genetic basis, did I even get those genes? Assuming my biological parents did give me crappy genes, and assuming I was then raised by a supportive and loving household, I do think I would be able to overcome a lot of that pathology, but maybe not all of it. Then again, pathology can be transformed into genius, so maybe I would end up even better off for my ostensibly crappy genes.

So, like @delirium said: Both.

Knotmyday's avatar

@Niki- thank you. Thanks for the link to Huntington’s disease as well; I believe I may have a co-worker displaying those symptoms. Very enlightening.

Miss_Lys's avatar

i think mostly genetics but the environment has something to do with it also

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