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Psychology - Nature/Nurture Debate

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Access to HE: Psychology Assignment 1 "Outline and comment on the two schools of thought involved in the study of the nature-nurture debate in psychology. Explain, using examples, why this debate gives rise to so much controversy." The debate concerning the influence of nature and nurture (or heredity and environment) on human behaviour is one of the longest running, and most controversial, both inside and outside psychology. It deals with some of the most fundamental questions that human beings ask about themselves, such as 'How do we come to be the way we are?' and 'What makes us develop in the way we do?' (Gross 2005, P.900) There are three sides to the debate: on the nature side are the nativists or ethologists who believe that children develop almost entirely as a result of genetic influences, with their environment having little effect; on the nurture side are the behaviourists or empiricists who believe people are born as a blank slate which is 'filled-in' over a lifetime through learning and experience; and in the middle are the interactionists who, hence the name, believe children develop as a result of an interaction between biology and environment. I will now look at the arguments in more detail. Genetic transmission is the way we acquire characteristics through inheritance. Each cell in the body contains a nucleus, which contains a substance called DNA. ...read more.


The stimulus (the bell) became a conditioned stimulus as a result of regular association with the unconditioned stimulus (the food). In 1924, Watson, an extreme behaviourist, argued that if he were given 'a dozen healthy infants...and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer...and yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors' (Hayes and Orrell 1998, P.2). Watson was the first psychologist to apply the principles of classical conditioning to human behaviour, he set-up an experiment using an 11 month old baby, where he associated the sight of a white rat with the sound of a hammer striking a steel bar just out of sight behind the baby's head. As you can imagine Watson was successful in inducing a phobia of rats in the young boy. This is considered to be one of the most ethically dubious psychology experiments ever conducted. Operant conditioning is where a response is learnt not simply because it's associated with a particular stimulus, but because it produces pleasant consequences. It deals with voluntary actions rather than just reflexes. In 1911 Thorndike named this the Law of Effect. Skinner was the psychologist most responsible for developing this theory. ...read more.


A very famous, but sad, supporting example is that of David Reimer. As a result of an accident during circumcision, one of a pair of identical twins lost his penis. At 22 months he was surgically castrated, oestrogen was given and a vaginal canal constructed. He was subsequently raised as a girl named Joan. Aged 4, Joan preferred dresses to trousers, took pride in her appearance and was cleaner than her brother. Psychologists Money and Erhardt (1972) used these findings to support the view that gender identity is inherited. In reality Joan suffered years of bullying and was an extremely unhappy adolescent. Just before her 16th birthday Joan decided to stop living as a girl and underwent sex change surgery just before his 16th birthday. He made several attempts on his life before having a second operation on his penis aged 21. He did meet and fall in love with a single mother of three children, but his unhappy childhood continued to haunt him until he committed suicide in 2004, he was in his late thirties. (Gross 2005, P.626) In conclusion, and after taking into account all the evidence I don't think it is possible to say that any aspect of human development happens purely because of biological or environmental influences. I would have to agree with the interactionists and say that human traits are determined by both nature and nurture, though I'm sure the debate over the relative contributions of each will continue until the end of time. ...read more.

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