Discuss the nature-nurture debate in relation to the physical development of an individual.

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Unit 4 – Development through the life stages

Unit 4 – Task 1

M1- Discuss the nature-nurture debate in relation to the physical development of an individual.


The nature-nurture debate is concerned with the extent to which particular aspects of behaviour are a product of either inherited (genetic) or learned characteristics. Some philosophers and theorists have argued that we are just born to be the way we are. Whereas other theorists have argued that it is the way we are brought up and influenced by our surroundings that makes an individual the way they are.

The nature side of the debate believes that it is inherited factors which have the greatest impact on our development. It has long been known that certain physical characteristics are biologically determined by genetic inheritance. The colour of your eyes, if you have straight or curly hair, the pigmentation of your skin and the inheritance of certain genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis are all a function of the genes we inherit. These biological factors are said to determine an individual’s development and characteristics. Genes program the chemical basis of our biology; they provide the instructions for structuring amino acids which in turn influence the proteins within our body cells. Our body shape and size as well as behaviour depend on the interaction of our biology and environmental factors. Things such as height, weight, hair loss (in men), life expectancy and vulnerability to specific illnesses e.g. breast cancer in women are positively correlated between biologically related individuals. Many characteristics are easy to see, e.g. red hair, long fingers, however it isn’t as easy to find out how much intelligence or personality is determined at birth. Earlier this century psychologists claimed that intelligence was inherited, however today there is still debate about how much effect heredity has on intellectual development. Characteristics and differences that are not observable at birth, but which emerge later in life, are regarded as the product of maturation. The maturation theory is that some aspects of development, such as the ability to speak a first language are thought to be due to an inbuilt genetic process. Children ‘naturally’ become interested in the sounds and signs that they see around them and the ability to speak develops. Many people speculate as to whether psychological characteristics such as behavioural tendencies, personality attributes and mental abilities are also ‘programmed in’ before we are even born.

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The nurture side of the debate recognises that biological factors do play an important part in development; however it is believed that the environment that an individual grows up in is more important. The environment is referred to as the things that make up our world, our experiences, surroundings, what we eat, the type of people we interact with, what we hear, how others treat us etc. It is said that experiences are  onto the mind, which is essentially a ‘blank slate’. We have knowledge of the world because we learn from experiences. Prior to experience, the human ...

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