Within psychology, the nature-nurture debate is ongoing. The debate centres around the issue of whether our psychological attributes are part of our biological/genetic make-up, or whether they are formed by a person’s interaction with the environment.

The two main concepts here are:

1)-Biological determination is the ‘Nature’ influence. Psychological attributes such as intelligence, addictiveness and depression may be caused by genetic influences (such as a gene passed on by one parent, or the human genetic makeup) or by biological factors (such as a hormonal imbalance, developmental stages, nervous system damage etc.). Hereditary refers to behaviours or characteristics which have been transmitted from parents to offspring. The units of hereditary are genes, which determine the course of development in the growing human embryo.


Gene – A unit composed of DNA forming part of a chromosome, by which inherited characteristics are transmitted from parents to offspring.

Socialization – The shaping of the individual’s behaviour, through training provided by the social environment.

2)-Environmental influence is the ‘Nurture’ influence. Nurture refers to all environmental influences that affect the child’s psychology from its birth, from the way a child is raised (socialized) to the food the child eats. Environmental factors can be very difficult to identify, because in order for them to affect the child’s psychology, they must be registered by the child’s awareness in a way that has an impact. For instance, most infants will grow sickly and apathetic if they are deprived of human touch or affection, yet some will be far less affected, perhaps because they do not register the neglect as strongly, or maybe they have stronger inner resources. In general, however, we can determine that environmental influences include the behaviour and attitudes of parents, family and peers, the amount and kind of stimulation provided, what a child learns from parents, society, school etc., social and cultural influences, and the surrounding situation i.e. whether it is predictable and safe or dangerous and unpredictable.

Today, most psychologists agree that there is an interaction between nature and nurture. It might be that a child is born, genetically predisposed to be, say, violent, but only with the right environmental triggers (eg. an abusive parent) will that violence occur in the child.

For example, we want to understand why Thomas drinks so much. Is it because he has a biological predisposition (an alcoholic or addictive type gene), or is it because he was influenced by his alcoholic father, whom was frequently drunk during Thomas’s childhood, We cannot simply assume that it is one or the other cause, for it could well be a combination of both. We cannot know for certain, and if we really want to help Thomas overcome his drinking addiction, we will have to investigate much further to understand what contributes to it, and what factors need to be addressed.

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