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Essay on The Nature-Nurture Debate

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How the Pendulum Swings: The Nature-Nurture Debate


One of the most intriguing science-and-culture debates of the twentieth century is that of the origin of behavior. The issue that has its roots in biology and psychology is popularly framed as the "nature versus nurture" debate. At different points in time, consensus has swung from one to the other as the supposed cause of our actions. These changes are not only the result of an internal dynamic but were subject (as they are today) to external influences, most notably politics and developments in other academic disciplines. The oversimplified polarities in this case-study illustrate an important characteristic of the larger scientific process. In search of a more refined theory, these are the necessary stepping stones in the attempt to get it 'less wrong'.

Historical developments of a political nature have had a significant impact on the way the nature-nurture debate developed. Social Darwinism is a doctrine based on genetic determinism and natural selection, advocating a laissez-faire capitalist economy and promoting eugenics, racism and the inherent inequality of such a society. Extending Darwin's theory of evolution to social thought and political philosophy, the biologically-deterministic view culminated in the extremism of Nazi Germany. After the horrors of World War II, the debate swung in favor of "nurture", with American psychologists taking up a rhetoric of environmental influences on behavior, emphasizing the learning process. In turn, the European school of ethology arose in opposition to the environmentalists, focusing on innate behavior (that is, their genetic origins). While this divergence was eventually resolved, according to Barlow (1991)1 the s...


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...3), 291-308. Retrieved from Lexis-Nexis.

9) Richelle, Marc N. (1993). B F Skinner: A Reappraisal. Hove, UK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

10)Cowley, G. (1995, March 27). It's time to rethink nature and nurture. Newsweek, 125(13), 52-53. Retrieved from Lexis-Nexis.

11)Morrish, John. (2003, April 27). Books: Don't keep your baby in a soundproof box, Mr Scientist; Nature Via Nurture by Matt Ridley. Independent on Sunday, Sunday features, 19. Retrieved from Lexis-Nexis.

12)De Waal, Frans B.M. (1999). The end of nature versus nurture. Scientific American, 281(6), 94-99. Retrieved from Expanded Academic.

13)Laland, Kevin; Brown, Gillian. (2002, August 3). The Golden Meme: Memes offer a way to analyse human culture with scientific rigour. Why are social scientists so averse to the idea. New Scientist, 175(2354), 40-43. Retrieved from Expanded Academic.



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