A personal characteristic that fits well into the nature vs. nurture debate is my Arithmetic ability. While this attribute can be defined as my actual math ability, measured by my high school and college grade-point-average in Math courses as well as my SAT scores on the Math section, I am also referring to the advantages assimilated with “being good at math. ” This includes being able to think in an analytical way to solve puzzles and being able to estimate certain calculations with greater proximity such as tipping a waitress.

After analyzing how my math skills have developed throughout my life, I have noticed the incredible influence both nature and nurture have had on me. Throughout the course of my life, nature has played a significant role in my observable math abilities. Nature refers to the characteristics that are inherited from our parents. In my case, both my mother and father have very strong analytical backgrounds that lead me to believe that my arithmetic skills are inherited genes. My mother studied economics and graduated with a degree in business from Columbia University before spending a majority of her career in finance.

My father majored in Physics in his undergraduate studies, earned a degree in business from Columbia University, and is currently in finance as well. The family connection to math doesn’t stop there. My older sister, aunt, uncle, and both sets of grandparents have a noticeably higher intelligence in the maths and sciences than they do in other aspects of observable intelligence. In order to gain a further understanding on nature’s influence on math skills I conducted a small survey amongst ten of my friends with relatively high GPAs at the University of Michigan and all with similar academic drives.

Five of the students I selected considered themselves very good at math and claimed that their parents and other family members are as well. Each of the other five consider math one of their academic weaknesses and assert that their parents are to blame as they too struggle with numbers. While the survey I conducted shows a correlation between genes and ability, it is somewhat of a weak display of evidence. In order to prove a deeper link between one’s traits and their ability to do something, a much larger sample size is needed than just ten of my friends.

Nevertheless, there is undeniable truth to nature influencing our behavior and mental activities. While nature has played somewhat of a role in influencing my math skills, nurture, or the events in my life and my environment, has had a considerably larger influence. Despite the fact that I perceive I’ve inherited “math genes” from my parents, my math skills didn’t fully develop until high school. In fact, according to my parents and various report cards, throughout elementary and middle school, math was one of my worst subjects and one that I struggled to understand simple concepts in, constantly.

The environment I was living in, as a middle and high school student was one geared towards improvement in math. I was exposed to a household of math wizards that constantly reminded and pressured me to think mathematically. For example, if I were to ask my father how much time remained in a car ride home, a typical response would be “just a few minutes” however; my father would’ve given his approximation to the exact minute. My older sister, who I spent much of my free time with throughout my childhood, rarely read books or watched television. Rather, her spare time was spent solving Sudoku puzzles and playing math-based computer games.

These are examples of my environment unintentionally affecting my math abilities however, there were many cases in which my environment made it very clear that inadequate math ability was unacceptable. If I came home from school with a ninety percent on an English exam I’d receive plenty of praise for my studying and effort from my parents. However, if I received a ninety percent on a math exam, my parents would begrudgingly ask me “what happened to the other ten percent? ” This pressure undoubtedly forced me to put more focus on my math skills making me the strong math student that I am today.

My intuition suggests that had nature been the only factor influencing my math ability, my skills would’ve been far better from an earlier stage in my life rather than hitting their stride so late in my academic career. The development of my math ability to a much higher level than that of before also suggests that it was nurture contributing. I began demonstrating qualities that suggest further interest in math such as, the ability to quickly solve a Sudoku puzzle or a Rubik’s cube. These are two activities I may never have even learned of had I not seen my father, sister and her friends practicing them regularly.

While my evidence supporting the role of nurture in my math ability is based solely on personal experiences and is consequently weak, had I been conducting this analysis on a broader scale I would have conducted a thorough experiment or case study. I would analyze a group of individuals who have families with strong mathematical backgrounds and genes, but observe their personal math abilities in environments of both high and low mathematical exposures. If the students with “math genes” continue to strive in environments with low math exposure then we know nature plays a significant role in shaping one’s math abilities.

On the contrary, if the students living in environments with high nurturing for math are more successful than the others, we can conclude that nurture plays the more significant role in forming one’s math skills. In general it is difficult to observe whether nature or nurture has more of an impact on human actions and behavior however, in my case, through interviews with my parents and an analysis of my past experiences, I have observed that my arithmetic ability is mostly comprised of environmental components rather than biological ones.

Courtney from Study Moose

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