Nature vs Nurture Essay: Example and Tips

Nature vs nurture topics

Here are several topics we can offer you as an example of names for your essays. Read them all and choose the one, which closer to you and your interest:

What is stronger: nature or nurture?

Solving the case: nature versus nurture.

Nature vs nurture. Interactions of genes and environment.

Nature vs nurture throughout the development of psychological science – this is the topic we have chosen for our nature vs nurture essay example.

Template of essay Nature vs nurture throughout the development of psychological science


  1. Introduction
  2. Main body
  3. Historical background
  4. Anthropological viewpoint
  5. Debate on nature vs nurture and gender equality
  6. “Nature vs Nurture” in the USA and the world
  7. Development of the argument of Nature versus Nurture
  8. Conclusion


In the hundred years since the invention of the IQ tests, the methods of using them and the descriptions of the person they provide have repeatedly generated moral and political discussions. And this is not an accident, not a vicissitude of the historical fate of psychology, but an inevitable component of any activity whose task is to describe and compare people.

The biggest resonance evoked controversy about what is more important for the formation of human abilities: nature (heredity) or nurture (environment). Often, as it was in the USA in 1969, news of the achievements of science fell into the headlines of newspapers. Then Arthur Jensen made a statement about the direct connection between the level of intelligence and race. Thus, he questioned the legitimacy of the liberal approach to education.

Another example. Educational policy in the post-war Great Britain was accompanied by a protracted conflict over the proper allocation of resources: Is it wise to continue to develop the system of universal education (assuming that children with different levels of ability go to the same schools) or, alternatively, should it be gradually abandoned? How to maintain a balance between natural abilities and the ideal of social equality? In many countries, the problem of criminal punishment caused deep concern: should we be guided more by the idea of ​​retribution or by the task of re-educating the offender? And the adoption of this or that point of view depended, in turn, on the idea of ​​the origins of crimes: should they be sought in the character of the individual or in social conditions, in the environment?

The question of the origin of psychological conditions and inclinations was at the center of public discussions about educational and punitive politics, once again emphasizes how firmly psychology entered everyday life. Few people dared to explain everything by one thing, either by nature or by nurture. It was discussed to what extent natural or social factors hamper the development of human potential, and how a person can influence them. Therefore, no matter how many disputants referred to objective scientific data, their reasoning had a pronounced political connotation.

Historical background

The general direction of the discussions was set by Galton, who formulated the very problem of nature vs nurture. His own opinion was absolutely unambiguous. He believed that heredity determines the development of mental and physical abilities, and that the limits of this development in different people are different. The social position of a person, in his opinion, accurately reflects the level of his abilities: therefore he considered it possible to use information about outstanding people from biographical dictionaries to study hereditary talent. Galton was criticized for not taking into account the living conditions of ordinary people who interfered with the development of their. First formulated his views in the 1860s, Galton clearly saw their great divergence from the Victorian ethic of self-education, which emphasized the role of strong-willed efforts of man on the way to achieving the desired goals. Therefore, Galton contrasted his scientific psychology, based on the laws of heredity, to what he considered unscientific moralistic psychology. For him it was important to separate not nature and nurture, but science and non-science. The same meaning persisted in the debate of the 20th century.

At the end of XIX century, the doctrines that attached the main importance to heredity enjoyed wide, though not universal, recognition. This was due to the problem of racial differences, the struggle for the expansion of colonial empires, the growing influence of socialism and feminism, the threat of alcoholism and degeneration, with the costs of mass society as a whole. Burt followed Galton, already in his earliest studies on the basis that the hereditary characteristics of a person can be measured. Then the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and by the beginning of the World War I the talk of heredity subsided. In the 1920s, many were occupied by the problem of environmental, or social, determination of human abilities. The most illustrative example is the example of young teachers who worked in the Viennese slums. It was then, and mainly in the United States, that the discussion about nature and nurture took its present form. Until the 1960s, the idea of ​​the decisive role of social factors was dominant. After this, the pendulum began to return back, and at the beginning of the XXI century, many psychologists (although, of course, not all) again think about the mystery of heredity.

In each case, psychology and politics interacted in their own way. In the United States in the 1920s, the discussion focused on the restrictive Immigration Act adopted in 1923, which embodied fears over the influx of immigrants – their quantity and quality. Since the beginning of XX century, an increasing number of immigrants came from countries of Southern and Eastern Europe, from Turkey, Transcaucasia, China and Japan. Many feared that these people would not be able to successfully integrate into American society, and that by their abilities they are much inferior to natives of northwestern Europe. The adoption of the Act can not be attributed to the influence of psychologists, although some – in particular, Carl C. Brigham from Princeton saw in the results of army testing the evidence that “new” and “old” immigrants vary in intelligence. Goddard also spent some time testing intelligence from immigrants, working at the checkpoint on Ellis Island, on his way to New York. As far as could be judged from the test results, immigrants from outside Western Europe had a low level of abilities, and for a very simple reason, as Goddard himself quickly realized. Tests assume that the tested person is to some extent familiar with the language and culture of the testers. Perhaps without affecting the very content of discriminatory laws, testing, nevertheless, created an unfavorable atmosphere around immigrants. The results of the tests were featured in public disputes about nature and nurture and the future of the educational system.

Anthropological viewpoint

Studying the problem of cultural differences, social anthropologists – especially Franz Boas (1858-1942) and his American students professed the idea of ​​the sovereignty of culture. In their opinion, what divides people has little to do with biological heredity. And it blended well with one of the characteristics of American political life – a belief in the ability of people to adapt to new social conditions. Large funds flowed into the system of public education; some of this has transcended psychology. The very ability of a person to adapt to abrupt changes was subjected to a severe test in the 1930s – during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal he had begun.

Boas himself was an immigrant from Germany. He brought to his new homeland interest in the problem of interaction between cultural and psychological processes, for example, in the development of speech. In Berlin, Boas was Bastian’s assistant at the Royal Ethnographic Museum, a scientific institution where long-standing preference was given to cultural theories of progress, not biological, in particular, to heredity. In 1899, Boas became a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. He is destined to have a serious impact on the development of this science in North America, its gradual transformation from the museum profession, which it was throughout the nineteenth century, to university discipline.

After conducting field research of various Indian tribes of British Columbia (Canada), Boas summed up their results in the book “The Mind of Primitive Man” (1911). He resolutely rejected the idea of ​​an evolutionary hierarchy of peoples, in which the so-called primitive tribes were located at a lower level. It is important that the understanding of these cultures was carried out according to the way the Indians themselves described the surrounding world. Boas defended the common nature of man. In the year of publication of his book, he published another study on the measurement of various parameters of the skull in the descendants of immigrants. He managed to show that the shape of the skull in subsequent generations is changing. Although there is no direct reference to the discussion in the article, the general conclusion of Boas is unambiguous and clear: presumably the fixed biological characteristics of a particular race are capable of changing depending on local conditions. Boas’s argument indicated that the level of development of various abilities does not depend on the race or “primitiveness” of the person being studied. Individual abilities must be understood in the context of a particular culture, in connection with their significance for the bearer of this culture. This also outlined the sphere of interest of anthropology, independent of general psychology.

Anthropology attracted universal attention in the 1930s thanks to the pupil of Boas, Margaret Mead (1901-1978) and her book “Coming of Age in Samoa” (1928). In the mid-1920’s, Mead, who was then about 25 years old, began studying young girls in Samoa. Their light and carefree life was opposed to the nervous and tense atmosphere in which their American peers grew. It was assumed that the study of the characteristics of puberty will provide new arguments in favor of the fact that the development of the child is due not to rigid biological regularities, but to culture. From these positions, Mead criticized the earlier work of the psychologist Hall. Those who attributed the main role in shaping the personality to nurture and education found confirmation of their views in Mead’s book: child development is an open process that does not have a pre-determined outcome, and the whole point is that the efforts of society as a whole, and teachers and mothers, in particular, create the most favorable conditions for new generations.

Many years later, the methodology of her research in Samoa was sharply criticized, and the value of her views on psychology and culture was questioned. But in the middle of XX century, Mead was one of the most influential and well-known defenders of the role of culture in the formation of personality.

Debate on nature vs nurture and gender equality

As tests of intelligence (in the 1930s, personality tests were added to them) became routine, scientists began to look for indicators, including quantitative ones for such characteristics as masculinity and femininity. In 1903, the Chicago psychologist Ellen Bradford Thompson said that psychology has no evidence that men and women differ significantly in intelligence and other abilities. However, she believed that the existing psychological methods did not allow to give a definitive answer to this question. However, in the 1920s, special tests for gender differences were developed, and psychologists managed to discover what they were looking for. As a result, gender differences (the term “gender” was not used at that time) were discussed within the framework of the discussion about nature and nurture. Critics of the new tests said that male psychologists – in particular Thurmen and Yerkes – brought their own prejudices into the methods they created. Sociologists and anthropologists (for example, Boas) were skeptical of the allegations of innate psychological differences; Mead stated that “the personal characteristics of both sexes are formed by society”.

The 1920s, were also the time of the heyday of Watson’s behaviorism. Watson brought to the extreme the idea that the nature of man is the resultant of external stimuli. He argued that from any child (if it is physically normal), you can do anyone. Together with his student and his second wife Rosalie Rainer Watson, he actively appeared in the press, often in popular publications. Their position has influenced, at least temporarily the content of informational and educational brochures, issued on public funds. Even when the problem was discussed more carefully, taking into account the fact that the child goes through various stages in its development, the idea of ​​the decisive role of the environment still imposed enormous responsibility on parents and teachers. After all, each step will definitely affect the child, his future personality. However, this was not only a burden, but also a hope: in a democratic society, all people can be equal, regardless of their innate abilities.

Development of the argument of Nature versus Nurture

The argument erupted again when Professor of Psychology at the University of California Jensen published an article entitled “How much can we boost IQ and academic achievement?” The fierceness of the ensuing polemic was explained not only by the specific content of the article, but also by the situation in society. It was at this time that students began to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam; great hopes were placed on plans for radical social reforms, in particular the Head Start program, designed to remove the obstacles that were supposed to restrain the social progress of African Americans.

In the article Jensen said that a special program, which provided black students with an advantage in obtaining education, collapsed, which was explained by the influence of heredity. Jensen also attacked the “ostrich policy of those who deny the role of biological factors in the emergence of individual differences and neglects genetics, which can hamper further studies of the intellect and penetration into the essence of the problem”. The author re-established the idea of ​​innate general intelligence, considering it a key factor that determines the differences between people and has a direct relationship to social policy. In conclusion, Jensen stated that the existence of congenital genetic differences in the level of intelligence among black and white Americans is confirmed by data from absolutely flawless studies.

In his work, Jensen with admiration referred to Burt. It must be said that in England there was a parallel discussion of the same problem, although less emotional. In 1968, the Labor government attempted, based on the idea of ​​universal education, to eliminate the differences between different types of secondary schools designed for children with different levels of ability. This initiative was met with strong resistance. The intensity of the confrontation increased markedly after the appearance of a series of open letters, whose authors, including Eysenck and Burt, opposed the equalizing approach to education. Eysenck, who wrote a number of textbooks and popular books on psychology, attracted public attention. He was confident in the correctness of Galton, emphasizing the inherent biological character of abilities. This enraged the leftist critics who accused Eysenck of pushing the policy of discrimination, disguised by arguments about the natural limits of human abilities. Eysenck himself represented his activity as the development of methods of factor analysis, with the help of which he hoped to reveal the biological causes of differences between people.

But the disputes related to Eysenck came to the fore when a storm erupted around the works of Burt, who was reputed to be the most distinguished differential psychologist in England. The essence of the scientific problem once again goes back to Galton. In 1875, Galton published a paper in which he compared the character and abilities of identical twins separated at birth and brought up in different families. Then, as now, it seemed reasonable to believe that if some kind of data were destined to clarify the issue of nature and nurture, they would be obtained when studying the twins. But the cases of separated identical twins are very rare. Even if they can be found, scientists need to find out the history of the twins, compare them with the control subjects, and continue the research for a long time. Contrary to all these difficulties, Burt collected material on about thirty cases, on the basis of which he concluded that nature’s key role, and not upbringing, was key. According to Burt, identical twins demonstrate a comparable level of abilities, even when brought up in different social environments. This provision was included in all textbooks and manuals on psychology. Although Burt’s data were not without reservations, he, according to many, was able to demonstrate that scientific psychology is able to achieve objective results in research on sensitive political issues, from the political point of view.

And all this suddenly collapsed. In a number of journalistic investigations and academic studies, the latter were conducted by Leon J. Kamin (born in 1927) and published in the book “Science and Politics of IQ” (1974), the subject of interest of the authors there was an astonishing accuracy of Burt’s data and inconsistencies in the texts of the articles he wrote. There were suggestions that Burt not only manipulated the data, but also invented non-existent twins and even researchers who helped him. It also became clear that he arbitrarily interfered in the texts of other people’s articles in the journals he edited, in order to make them more consistent with his own position.

With deep regret, Burt’s biographer and admirer Hernshaw was forced to confirm the correctness of these findings and admit the fact of deception. Hernshaw accompanied his unambiguous conclusion with a subtle and precise description of Burt himself – his strengths and weaknesses as a person and as a psychologist. Despite the objections of some of its members, the Council of the British Psychological Society also acknowledged that Burt made a fraud of facts. In the opinion of critics, the Council preferred to blame one person, instead of publicly acknowledging the weakness of its discipline, in which it was easy to take at face value obviously doubtful baseline data and calculations. In the late 1980’s, the rightness of Burt’s critics was, in turn, questioned. In the eyes of the public, this showed that the controversy about nature and nurture is far from complete. Ironically, the results of long-term observations of identical twins conducted in the United States caused most psychologists in the 1990s recognize that heredity has a significant impact on human nature and ability.

“Nature vs Nurture” in the USA and the world

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, in Germany and Japan, the idea of ​​world domination was practiced through racist principles. For American anthropologists, this has become an additional argument in criticizing biologic theories of the differences between people. After the Second World War, very many rejected the concept of race as having real content, suggesting to classify people according to their cultural and ethnic differences.

At the same time, a number of geneticists who studied, in particular, the distribution of blood groups among the population, claimed: the race as a strictly biological category did not lose its significance. Subsequently, in the 1960s, the terms “race” and “intellect” reappeared in the political lexicon. This was due to the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States, the creation of programs of compensatory education for black citizens, as well as the liberation struggle of various countries against the political and economic imperialism of the West.

The problem of nature and nurture was shared not only by psychologists, but also by society as a whole. Both sides have combined scientific arguments with the expression of public and political sympathies. For those who assigned the main role of heredity, race and intellect were a biological reality, which can be described using methods of genetics or factor analysis. They saw themselves in the vanguard of science, warning politicians, doomed to failure in their attempts to ensure universal equality. Those who attributed the main role to the environment and saw in the achievements of the individual the result of the impact of social conditions, accused opponents of covering their right political views with rhetoric about the objective facts of nature.

Like their predecessor, Galton, the proponents of the concept of heredity emphasized the indisputability of their scientific data, contrasting them with confused and unclear notions, supposedly typical for the townsfolk, with their desire to give out what they desired for the reality. The decisive for the outcome of the discussion, therefore, was the question of the extent to which the arguments of the hereditary advocates were in fact scientific, in which the proponents of the role of the environment doubted.


The incessant debate about nature vs nurture tells of two important things. First, the categories of nature and nurture were extremely widely used in everyday language, whether it was about family, friends, or the heroes of television news – from bankers to murderers. With the help of these concepts, the psychological society tried to determine the place of the individual in a system of diverse social relations. The society listened to what specialists say about this, since psychology already played a central role in people’s attempts to comprehend and streamline their lives. But since there was no political consensus about how life should be organized, the debate about the meaning of nature and nurture could continue indefinitely.

Secondly, human development can in principle be described without referring to such abstract and general concepts as nature and nurture. Hereditary deposits, whatever they are, always appear in certain environmental conditions – in the social world in which the individual’s life passes. So, the life of children with Down syndrome – a disease that, as it became known around 1960, due to chromosomal aberration, could be very different depending on local conditions and on the children’s help. Those of them, with whom expensive personal educators work, achieve absolutely different results than children living in orphanages. There is always a choice of what can be done, whether it is a question of education, social assistance or social policy. You can justify this decision, referring to any psychological determinants, natural or social, but this will not cease to be a decision to live this way, and not otherwise. To consider psychology as an exclusively natural science, the subject of which exists independently of the social world and which will become the ultimate guide to life, means abandoning the choice. Unfortunately, many people expect this from psychology even now.