How Much is Behavior Based on Nature Versus Nurture?

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To what extent should we take into account genetic pre-dispositions when evaluating and responding to other people’s actions?


Science has identified two major influences which affect the person you grow to be: nature (your innate qualities and genetics) and nurture (your personal experiences and environment). These two factors play a major role in the upbringing of a human, but to what extent does each contribute to how a person behaves? Many remain polarized on how to factor genetics into our actions and reactions, or whether we should take them into account at all. With opportunities to send off your saliva for genome sequencing, the option to consider genetics when preventing or reacting to behaviors is tempting. Certain courtrooms are beginning to accept defenses citing biomedical explanations about aggression genes, and even toddler tantrums can be dealt with differently according to genetic findings. Do we need to consider genetics before judging or responding to somebody?

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal states that environmental sensitivity is directly attributable to genetic factors. These scientists have categorized people into two general groups: the orchids, whose behaviors are much more susceptible to environmental factors, and the dandelions, who are relatively less affected by external factors. These differences in environmental sensitivity are due to variations in genes that regulate dopamine production, such as DRD4. Those who produce less dopamine - the orchids - have a tendency to wilt under stringent and negative conditions and to flourish under stable and positive conditions.

According to the data, there was clear-cut evidence that the children with a DRD4 variant were more responsive (i.e. decreased aggression) when exposed to positive changes in parental treatment. This indicates that taking genetics into account can in fact promote better informed responses to behaviors. Yet some scientists question the validity of a genetic predisposition to environmental sensitivity, and others mention confounding factors such as natural variation in people’s genetics or upbringing, among a host of other influences. How much emphasis should we place on genetics when evaluating other’s actions, or responding to them?



New York Times video To Study Aggression, a Fight Club for Flies
A recent aggression study using fruit flies may be the start to a deeper understanding of genetic links to aggression and uncontrollable anger; although flies and humans are very different organisms, the study implicates there may be some parallel implications for mammals.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowNurture

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people's tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people's ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

NOVA video Criminal Minds: Born or Made?
How do genes, brain structure, and the environment interact to create criminals rather than rule-abiding citizens? NOVA explores recent science behind genetic predisposition to violence and aggression.

NPR Talk of the Nation audioTwins Data Reshaping Nature Versus Nurture Debate
Listen as researcher Peter Miller of National Geographic Magazine explains new research regarding genetics’ role in the shaping of who we are, and the field of epigenetics through the lens of (seemingly) identical twins.

Metro article What Gives Us Our Personality? Nature Takes on Nurture
This article presents views from a child clinical psychologist and a neuroscientist on the link between genetic inheritance and personality.

KQED Do Now Science is a monthly activity in collaboration with California Academy of Sciences. The Science Do Now is posted every second Tuesday of the month.

This post was contributed by youth from the Spotlight team within The California Academy of Sciences’ Careers in Science Intern Program. CiS is a multi-year, year-round work-based youth development program for young people from groups typically under-represented in the sciences.