Mandy Kloppers

Nature versus nurture


What is nature versus nurture? It’s an age old concept that has long been debated by sociologists and psychologists alike. When trying to create theories and establish causes and reasons for specific behaviours, we look to nature versus nurture for answers.

Nature refers to our genetic make up. Our DNA and our innate biology. Our height, eye colour and basic dispositions are examples of characteristics that are affected by nature. Our predisposition for illness is also connected to nature. Anything that relates to our genetic material is concerned with the nature element. This aspect has more to do with our ‘inner’ environment and physiology.

Nurture relates to our external environment. The way we are brought up. It has long been considered that dysfunctional behaviour comes from a disturbed upbringing – how we were nurtured as children.

Twin studies

Twin studies have been used to illuminate the significance that nature versus nurture has. When identical twins have been adopted by two different families, we can assume that the main differences in the twins when they are older can be attributed to nurture as their genetic make up is the same. Twins provide a natural laboratory setting for sorting out the differences between heredity and environment and a convenient way to study nature versus nurture.

If they are reared together, as in a typical family, their similarities may be due to their identical heredity or to their identical environment. But if they are reared apart, any differences between them must be attributed to differences in their environment, while similarities are mainly due to their identical heredity. This seductively compact argument sums up the logic behind Niels Juel-Nielsen’s study of Danish identical twins reared apart.

There have been many studies conducted to ascertain which component – nature or nurture is the most influential. The overall consensus seems to be that heredity/nature forms the ceiling of your potential and the environment/nurture determines how close to that ceiling you can go.


For example – your genetics determine your height. This is a definite measurement, yet you may not reach your true height if you are malnourished. Another example – you may be born with a talent for running but if you grow up in an environment that does not afford you the opportunity to find this talent, your inherited potential will be wasted.If a man is violent and hits his family – is it due to his genetic background (he was born with the characteristics – a violent gene?)or is the violent behaviour learned?

There is a delicate interplay between nature and nurture. They are inextricably linked and the debate continues as to which one is more important and influential. Nature versus nurture is a fascinating topic and one that will continue to be investigated for many years to come.

Mandy X



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