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The Case Of Nature V. Nurture

Perhaps no concept has caused so much debate in the field of human development than Nature vs. Nurture. Here are some examples to show you why. Edit: HDFS301

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1. Nature

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Heredity and natural influences have a greater influence on human development; genetic information is received from the parents at the time of conception; some examples include traits such as eye color, risk for certain diseases, talents, and height. These are the "inborn biological givens" people are born with (Berk, L., 2012, p. 9).

2. Nurture

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"Complex forces of the physical and social world", i.e. environment, influence human development. The physical environment can not only refer to geographic area one is raised, but to matters of nutrition, e.g. breastfeeding. Examples of a social environment includes peer and parental relationships and neighborhoods (Berk, L., 2012, p. 9; Mojica, S., 2014).

3. Stability


Children who are high or low in one particular characteristic (such as shyness) will tend to remain that way throughout their lives. If environment is considered, it is usually a result of "early experiences", particularly negative ones, e.g. decapitated Rudolph, that contribute to a pattern of behavior later in life that cannot be overcome. (Berk, L., 2012, p. 9)

4. Plasticity


Children are highly resilient and demonstrate the concept of plasticity - that adaptation to adversity is achieved in response to "influential experiences" (Berk, L., 2012, p.9). This boy received a banana as a gift, which would be disappointing to a lot of children - instead, his early experiences most likely contributed to his reaction. Or he must just really like bananas.

Influence on Areas of Development

Human development encompasses many different domains, which include physical development, language development, and temperament.

5. Physical Development

Our genetics largely determine our physical and cognitive characteristics (Nature). These characteristics, however, do not always achieve their highest potential as they are also dependent on external environmental factors (Nurture), such as nutrition (Berk, L., 2012, p. 416). A malnourished child experiences slowed growth, lower IQ, deficits in motor development and learning capacities (Berk, L., 2012, p. 416). Greater awareness of the importance of nutrition has been achieved - particularly in poverty stricken regions. This is most evident in the benefits of breast-feeding because adequate nourishment during infancy is one of the most critical periods in a child's physical development (Berk, L., 2012, pp.174-176).

Motor Development

Like other areas of development, cultural influence plays a role in when a child achieves motor skill milestones. Children in Romanian orphanages, for instance were deprived of stimulation required to develop motor skills as they spent the majority of the time lying on their back without any stimulating toys to play with - a result is that most of them do not move on their own until they are two years old (Berk, L., 2012, p. 169). To explain how motor skills are not genetically determined, Dynamic Systems Theory asserts that mastering motor skills involves acquiring "increasingly complex systems of action" that build upon each other in order to explore and control the environment (Berk, L., 2012, pp. 184-186). A typical sequence looks like this:

Kicking + Rocking on all fours + Reaching = Crawling.

Crawling + Standing + Stepping = Walking.

(Adolph & Berger, 2006; Thelen, 1989).

Dynamic Systems Theory of Motor Development, then, explains why motor skills cannot be genetically determined and have to instead rely on external environmental factors.

Negative Physical Outcomes.

Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. Unfortunately, this trend is especially impactful on families of low socioeconomic status. This is due to a variety of reasons including inability to access healthy foods (Food Deserts) and food insecurity. Families in poverty rely on cheap, unhealthy foods that contribute to obesity - these children also do not have particularly active lifestyles and tend to watch television while eating (Berk, L. 2012, p. 416).

6. Language Development

The nativist perspective of language development (Nature) states that the rules of sentence organization are "too complex" to be taught, rather people are born with a "Language Acquisition Device" (Chomsky), that is inborn, containing a universal grammar common in all languages (Berk, L., 2012, pp. 233-234).

The behaviorist perspective (Nurture), on the other hand, states that children rely heavily on imitating speech to refine the complexities of human language. Further, this imitation is combined with reinforcement from caregivers to further promote language development (Berk, L., 2012, p. 233).

7. Famous Theorist

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that children were born "noble savages", meaning they were inborn with a sense of right and wrong and an "innate plan for orderly, healthy growth". This built-in moral compass and unique ways of thinking and feeling can be harmed by adult intervention (Berk, L., 2012, p. 13).

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John Locke, believed that children are born "Tabula Rasa", or with a "blank slate" and develop almost exclusively from environmental influences and he championed the concept of plasticity. Locke believed that a child's development was influenced by warm, consistent teaching of caregivers (Berk, L., 2012, p. 12).

8. Why Not Nature and Nurture?

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Jean Piaget, most prominently known for his Cognitive Development Theory believed that there is no need to argue since both sides "win". He believed that nature and nurture work together in development and to account for knowledge (where it comes from, how it is acquired, and how it grows) one has to look at both environmental and genetic factors (Jean Piaget Biography).

Contemporary theorist have largely departed from the nature vs. nurture debate, and consider a "balanced point of view". Instead of favoring one extreme or the other, these theorist consider heredity and environment as "inseparably woven" (Berk, L., 2012, p. 9).

9. Thought to Leave You With.

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We briefly identified some classic Nature Vs. Nurture concepts. On a more modern note, keep those environmental and biological influences in mind while you consider the following:


Adolph, K.E. & Berger, S.E. (2006). Motor development. In D. Kuhn & R. Siegler (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 2. Cognition, perception, and language (6th ed., pp. 161-213). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Berk, L. (2012). Infants and children: Prenatal through middle childhood (Seventh ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Jean Piaget Biography: The Theory on Child Development Stages. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2015, from

Mojica, S. (2014, October 8). How Do Nature and Nurture Influence Human Development? Retrieved April 28, 2015, from

Thelen, E. (1989). The (re)discovery of motor development: Learning new things from an old field. Developmental Psychology, 25, 946-949.

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