Your genes pre-wire you to look a certain way. This includes the color of our eyes and hair, skin pigmentation, and the tendency to develop certain diseases. Conclusively, this happens as an attribute to heredity. Moreover, your physical appearance is determined or influenced by, the genes you inherit from your parents.

Studies show that hair loss in men, breast cancer in women, and other characteristics exist commonly among individuals related by genetics. These studies point to the role of nature with regards to behavior, intelligence, and psychological traits.

The nature vs. nurture debate pits genetic factors against your environment and life experiences. Which one of these elements seems more important in determining your personality, intelligence, and overall health? Are intelligence, mental abilities, and behavioral traits determined before birth, or are they molded later by environment and experience? 

Genetics and Your Behavior

Diagram of Charles Darwin's Blending Inheritance model in Genetics to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Ian Alexander, via Wikipedia Commons

Nature is another word for genetics. This goes the same for the traits you inherit from your parents and other hard-wired factors. External factors, such as experience, living environment, education, friends, and other non-genetic factors referred to as nurture.

Susceptibility to physical and mental illnesses tend to appear in two or more members of an extended family. If your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and other relatives possess certain illnesses, you’ll be more prone to develop them.

You reduce your chances of getting illnesses that run in your family by changing some of your environmental factors. Certainly, changing your diet and exercise helps a lot. This becomes your imperative when your parents endure heart disease or diabetes. You definitely need regular mammograms if your Mom and aunt had breast cancer.

Nativists and Empiricists

We refer to the term nativists for those who accept that the characteristics of individuals and humans as a whole due to hereditary traits. Genetics causes the differences between individuals. This means that the earlier a trait appears, the likelier it becomes influenced by hereditary. 

The Nativists

Kids at daycare center with a teacher to shows that all children get born with a predisposition to develop attachments with others to show Nature Vs. Nurture

Image: CC by A 2.0, Grant Barrett, via Wikipedia Commons

Psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory of attachment (1969) stated that all children get born with a predisposition to develop attachments with others. The desire for attachment means necessary for survival. An early-born child lives with an attachment to the mother. Likewise, this branches out to form relationships with others.

Hence, babies are born with behaviors called “social releasers”, such as smiling, crawling, and crying. This fact gets furthered by Noam Chomsky’s through the nativist theory of language acquisition. This hypothesis tells us that children happen to be born with rules about a language called “Universal Grammar” in their heads.

Hardwired learning tools for language transpire as the Language Acquisition Device. This arrives possibly by listening to their parents, children unconsciously use Universal Grammar to develop speech.

The Empiricists

Blank slate with a teacher in a daycare school to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by A-SA 2.0, foam, via Flickr

In the opposing camp, environmentalists (also called empiricists) believe that the human brain becomes a blank slate at birth. This gets filled up by experience and education. The belief that all behaviors are learned through interaction with the outside world signifies behaviorism. Your psychological and behavioral traits remain formed by what you learn in infancy and childhood.

How your parents raise you and the environment while you grow up determine your behavior. An infant develops attachments because of the love and care he or she received. Language comes from mimicking parents or siblings. This stimulates the environment which aids cognitive development.

How the Theories of Nature vs. Nurture Originated  

This theory of “genetics vs. environment” gets officially credited to psychologist Sir Francis Galton in 1869.


Hippocrates Statue and Dooley Hospital Door who developed theories on Nature Vs. Nurture

Image: CC by 2.0, Taber Andrew Bain, via Flickr

Hippocrates first addressed human behavior as having a biological origin around 400 B.C. Also, the legendary philosopher determined that behaviors happened biologically due to humor. The same goes for body fluids black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm.

Francis Galton

Francis Galton death mask on a museum who developed theories on Nature Vs. Nurture

Image: CC by 2.0, Matt Brown, via Flickr

Known as one of Charles Darwin’s cousins, he explored inborn vs. learned traits in three books. He offered these readings on the following: 1869’s Hereditary Genius, 1874’s English Men of Science: Their Nature & Nurture, and Natural Inheritance (1889). 

Galton believed that intelligence gets inherited. Hence, his research pinpointed the hereditary influences of past generations. This appears similarly in how they contributed to an individual’s mental and physical traits.

John Locke

 Portrait of John Locke who developed theories on Nature Vs. Nurture

Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Saaasasd, via Wikipedia Commons

In the 17th century, philosopher John Locke put forth the theory that humans came our from the mother’s womb as “tabula rasa”. Also known as blank slates. environmental influences shape personality and behavior.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Similarly, Rousseau, an 18th-century philosopher, stated that children lack inborn psychological traits. But, our minds resemble a blank sheet of paper. Afterward, life experiences and the environment leave imprints on children’s minds, forming their behaviors.

20th Century Pro-Empiricism Research on Nature vs. Nurture

John Watson, a 20th Century psychologist, believed that early childhood experiences appear more significant effect on your behavior than genetics. Watson established the psychological theory known as behaviorism.

Social-learning Theory

Focus group working principles on a round table at the office to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by A-SA 2.0, Kennisland, via Flickr

In 1977, Albert Bandura’s social learning theory stated that aggression becomes part of our learning through imitating and observing other people. His 1961 Bobo doll experiment showed that young children observed another child hitting or acting aggressively towards a doll. This mimics the behavior once left alone in a roomful of toys.

Language through Imitation and Repetition

B.F. Skinner posited in 1957 that language happens to be learned from other people through imitation and repetition. Skinner also believed we primarily look at what causes an action and its consequences.

Therefore, this stimulates our understanding of the human nature. The approach denotes the term operant conditioning. This modifies innate behavior through negative or positive reinforcement.

Twins and Predisposition to Disease

Mom and Twins in the Grass to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by 2.0, Donnie Ray Jones, via Flickr

Unsurprisingly, much of the research conducted on nature vs. nurture involves twins. Studies typically involve identical twins because they share the same genome and come from the same fertilized egg. Any differences between identical twins get affected due to environmental factors.

As it turns out, there comes no winner to this debate–it’s a tie. Research published in the journal Nature Genetics compiled results from most twin studies conducted between 1958 and 2012. The statistics indicated that 51% of human diseases and traits come from the person’s environment. 49% goes affected due to genetics.

Factors balance most disease and personality traits. On the other hand, some traits veered toward genetic or environmental. Studies showed bipolar disorder holds 70% genetic and 30% environmental.

Nature vs. Nurture: How the Environment Affects Your Genes

Woman Calmly Sitting In Front of the Silent River Meditating to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, leninscape, via Pixabay

Your environment and inherited traits influence each other throughout your life in Nature vs. Nurture. This cause changes in your behavior or physical health.

Even if you have no genetic disposition to depression or anxiety, research shows that environmental factors negatively affect nature. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of developing cancer compared to other children. Persons of any age or genetic makeup can develop anxiety if they live in a violent community.


A field called epigenetics focuses on how your environment affects genetics.  Your diet, toxins, and stress all impact your genes’ characteristics. Your genes and your environment influence each other. Depending on the environmental changes in your life, the effect appears positive or harmful.  

Life Adversities

Your behavior grows more likely influenced by genes and environment working together to than nature vs. nurture. The environment contains a long-term effect on your genes. Ongoing trauma, poverty, abuse, and other adverse life experiences alter your genetics.


A study focused on the children who grow up in poverty. Conclusively, they experienced methylation in their genes, a condition that alters DNA. This also causes autoimmune diseases later in life.

Serotonin Production

A similar study, in 2016, found that children from poverty-stricken families suffer from mental illness. Poor nutrition, stress, and the prevalence of smoking in the home inhibit serotonin production in the brain. Ultimately, these events cause depression.

What Current Research of Nature vs. Nurture Tells Us

Forestland Beside a Bricked-wall with a Road on a Sunset to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by 2.0, Phil Dolby, via Flickr

In the 21st Century, few researchers hold extreme nature vs. nurture positions. Studies tell us that human behavior is a result of the environment and inborn traits.

Human Genome Project

Surprisingly, genetics research gets boosted by the Human Genome Project. This explores how certain behaviors grow attributed to DNA strands on specific chromosomes. Scientists mapped out the DNA blueprint for a human being. The study looked for genes that may cause alcoholism, drug addiction, criminal tendencies, and other behaviors.

The nurture definition of environment and learning with the nativist theories support the facts of “one or the other” beliefs from the past. Modern studies focus on how much of a person’s traits influences the environment or heredity. Likewise, if one gets more importance than the other.

“Either/or” Debates

Many scientists believe that genetics and learned behavior occur inextricably woven with one another. The “either/or” debates of the past rendered obsolete in scientific circles.

Given the new research, a pre-teen boy inherits a tendency toward aggressive behavior. This gets evident when the boy gets angry or bullies others. He invokes aggressive responses from his parents or other adults. This chain-reaction mechanism causes epigenetic changes in the boy’s brain, causing it to develop differently.  

The External Factors: Nature vs. Nurture

Grass Field with Forestland with concrete walls and gate to show Nature Vs. Nurture that Genes and Environment Determine Behavior

Image: CC by 2.0, olivia darby, via Flickr

We now know that external factors, such as environment, nutrition, exercise, socialization, and psychotherapy influence genes for better or worse. This knowledge enables you to be more aware of how your lifestyle trigger changes. Also, these cause mental or physical illness.

For example, your child suffers from it if you lose your job even if your family begets no history of depression. Further, your child lives in poverty for several years. The behavioral problems you possess combine your innate and life influences. It goes not always one or the other.

Since the advent of epigenetics, it becomes apparent that you (and your loved ones) don’t need to be “victims” of genetics or learned behavior. There exist ways to change negative behavioral traits and learn new ones.


Featured Image: CC by 2.0, Matt Ryall, via Flickr

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