The nature versus nurture debate is an argument over whether nature plays a primary role in the development of an individual (heredity), or the environment (nurture). Nature, as understood by Psychologists, refers to physical characteristics that are biologically inherited, such as the color of skin, eye or texture of hair. Nurture on the other hand, refers to environmental influences after conception, such as our experiences (McLeod 2011). The debate has been controversial and ongoing for decades; Psychologists have tried to determine whether a person’s development is predisposed by DNA or his environment.
So the questions exists, is it inherited gene or is it the driving force such as upbringing and nurturing from parents and caregivers that influences a child to grow up to become a lawyer, doctor, or a professional athlete. Both theories are essentially at opposite ends of the spectrum. Those who adopt an extreme hereditary approach (nativists) are of the belief that the characteristics or the human specie are a product of evolution and that our individual differences are due to the unique genetic makeup of the individual.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, are environmentalists (empiricists) who believe that at birth the human mind is a blank slate that during development is gradually filled with our experiences (McLeod, 2007). In this paper we will look to two studies exploring the controversial nature versus nurture debate, make comparisons between them and discuss the conclusion of each study. John Bowlby (1907-1990) was a psychoanalyst who believed that mental health and behavioral problems could be attributed to early childhood.
In his evolutionary Theory of Attachment developed after World War II, he suggests that children come into the world “biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others,” as this is a means of survival. According to his original theory, infants have a universal need to seek close proximity with their caregiver. He observed that children experience intense distress when separated from their mothers and this shaped his belief that there is a fundamental link between early infant separations with the mother and later maladjustment (McLeod, 2009).
Many subsequent theories have developed in support of this theory; Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson in 1964, studied 60 babies at monthly intervals for the first 18 months of life. The children were all studied in their own home and involved visiting the babies monthly for approximately one year. During this time, the caregivers were interviewed and all interactions with the babies were observed (McLeod, 2009). In contrast, Albert Bandura developed the Social Learning Theory in support of the nurture debate.
He believed that people learn from each other through the process of observation, imitation and modeling. In 1961 he conducted an experiment called the “Bobo Doll Experiment,” to investigate if social behaviors can be acquired by imitation. The methodology of his study involved testing 36 boys and girls from the Stanford University Nursery School between the ages of three and six years. One male and female adult role model was chosen to demonstrate aggressive behavior. 24 boys and girls were allowed to watch a role model behaving aggressively towards a toy called a “Bobo doll.
” The adults were told to attack the doll in destructive way, using hands, feet, weapons, or abusive language. Another 24 children were exposed to a non-aggressive model and the final 24 children were used as a controlled group and not exposed to any model or aggressive behavior at all. All the children were tested individually through three stages; “modeling, aggression arousal and delayed imitation” (McLeod, 2011). When the two studies are compared, many differences can be identified, but only a few similarities. In both studies, the subjects used were children.
The researchers used an observational approach to undertake their study, the results of which support each theory. During both studies, the subjects were observed during normal activities and their behaviors evaluated through a series of stages. The first identifiable difference between studies was the type of study undertaken. A longitudinal study was undertaken in The Attachment Theory. It was conducted over a period of 18 months; while the Social Learning Theory was an experiment conducted over one day using matched pairs design.
The second difference between studies was where they took place: the Attachment Theory studied infants in their own homes, while the Social Learning Theory conducted the experiment in a play nursery. Children at different ages were used in both studies: from birth to 18 months in the Attachment Theory, and from three to six years in the Social Learning Theory. In the Social Learning Theory experiment, all the children were pre-tested for aggression before the behavior was introduced to one group. No behavior was introduced in the Attachment Theory study, infants were observed in their normal routine and daily interactions.
One final observable difference between the studies was that a controlled group was used in the “Bobo Doll Experiment” of The Social Learning Theory, while no controlled group was used in the Attachment Theory study (McLeod 2009, 2011). The Attachment Theory study results indicate that babies develop attachment in the following sequence: (1) up to three months of age where the baby responds equally to any caregiver, (2) after four months where there is a preference for certain people, (3) after seven months where there is a special preference for a single attachment figure, (4) and after nine months where they develop multiple attachments.
The conclusion of the study proved babies look to particular people for security, comfort and protection. Fear and unhappiness is shown when separated from that special person. According to the study the most important thing in forming attachment is not who feeds and changes the child, but who plays and communicates with him or her (McLeod, 2009). In the second study, the “Bobo Doll Experiment” findings supported Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.
Children learn social behavior such as aggression through the process of observation learning, i.e. watching the behavior of another person. During the “experiment” the children exposed to the violent model tended to imitate the exact behavior they had observed when the adult left the room. The children in the non-aggressive group behave less aggressively than those in the control group, and boys behaved more aggressively than girls. The study also showed that boys who observed an adult male behaving violently were more influenced than those who had observed a female model aggressive behavior.
Boys were more likely to imitate physical acts of violence, while girls were more likely to imitate verbal aggression (McLeod, 2011). Many experts believe today, that behavior and development are influenced by both nature and nurture; one does not exist without the other. Some psychologists believe that learning continues even through adulthood. While few people take the extreme inherited or extreme environmental approach, researchers and experts are now consumed with the degree to which biology and environment influence behavior. References McLeod, S. A. (2011).
Albert Bandura/ Social learning theory- Simply psychology. Retrieved 10/01/2013 from http://www. simplypsychology. org/baddura. html McLeod, S. A. (2009). Attachment Theory – Simply psychology. Retrieved 10/04/2013 from http://www. simplypsychology. org/attachment. html McLeod, S. A. (2011). Bobo Doll Experiment- Simply psychology. Retrieved 10/03/2013 from http://www. simplypsychology. org/bobo-doll. html McLeod, S. A. (2011). Nature Nurture in Psychology- Simply psychology. Retrieved 10/05/2013 from http://www. simplypsychology. org/naturevsnurture. html.
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