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Nature vs. Nurture Essay


The subject of nature versus nurture is addressed. Both nature and nurture have strong effects on how humans learn and are able to learn. Observations of three children discuss how nature has caused conditions that hinder development as well as how human intervention has enabled these children to grow despite their conditions. Nature and nurture have negative aspects that may or may not be improved to foster development. Nature and nurture interact in human development.

Keywords: Nature, nurture, Piaget, cochlear implant, epilepsy, Erikson, Gilligan, Vygotksy, Kohlberg, Outliers.


Nature? Nurture? Both? Theorists have struggled for more than a century with which variable has the greater effect on human learning. When we refer to ‘nature’ in learning we are discussing the biological elements of human learning and intelligence, such as, chromosomes and DNA, the biology of the brain, and diseases, syndromes or conditions that the individual may be born with or develop in their lifespan (Society for Neuroscience, 2012) The theoretical framework of “Genetic Epistemology” of Jean Piaget was based on his ‘naturalistic’ research of children. Piaget was most concerned with how knowledge developed in children. His theory advocated 4 stages of development: sensorimotor, preoperational stage, concrete operations, and formal operations, which he assigned to different age groups (Genetic Epistemology, n.d.) to explain when and how human cognitive development occurs.

I have observed natural effects in several children in my life and have seen how nature has affected their learning. Mikaela and CJ are the children of our dear friends. It is theorized that Mikaela may either have lost her hearing shortly after birth or was born without hearing (Sorenson and Sievert, personal discussion and observation, 2004). CJ was born with hearing but has lost nearly all hearing in one ear and needs a hearing aid in the other ear (Sorenson and Sievert, personal discussion, 2006). When Mikaela was diagnosed around 2 years of age, she was fitted with cochlear implants (Sorenson, personal discussion, 2004). CJ was fitted with one cochlear implant around 5 years old (Sorenson, personal discussion 2008). Mikaela struggled to overcome the lack of aural stimulation and verbal acquisition. She will still sign now at age 13 when she wants to communicate quickly. Her speech is very monotonic even after speech therapy (Sievert, observation, May 2014).

CJ learned to read very quickly and would amuse himself on early Saturday mornings with watching WWII history and reading the captions so as to not wake the family (Sorenson, personal communication, 2009). They adapted and created schemas to bridge the challenge. My grandson Micah was diagnosed with epilepsy in April 2013 at 13 months of age. The seizure activity and the use of medications affected his brain activity to nearly wipe out every developmental milestone (Sievert, observation and interaction, May 2013). MRI results showed areas of the brain had atrophied.

His physical and occupational therapists have retrained his neural pathways and he is now a normal 27 month old (Sievert, observation and interaction, 2014). All of these children were able to overcome natural challenges with interventions. ADD/ADHD (WebMD.com, 2014) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (CDC.gov, 2014) are both natural in their origin and are being studied now to find interventions that enable these individuals to become empowered learners in classroom learning environments (Jensen, 2005).

The term ‘nurture’ refers to the effects of interaction in the development of the individual and can range from human interaction with caregivers, peers, and society, to environment and technological devices (UCSB.edu, 2001). Vygotsky, Erikson, Kohlberg and Gilligan would be theorists who tend to place more emphasis on how environment shapes the cognitive and moral development of the individual. Lev Vygotksy claimed that all learning was shaped by the interactions of the child with society and culture as well as how language developed (McLeod, 2007). Language acquisition was seen as very important in cognitive development, especially in developing private speech. Erikson saw cognitive development as a lifelong activity with 8 psychosocial stages, each having a crisis that called for resolution in the individual in relationship to the society (McLeod, 2008).

Both Kohlberg and Gilligan based their moral reasoning models on how children learn in relationship to the society around them plus possible societal roles placed on boys or girls (Nucci, 2014). Nurture led to Mikaela, CJ, and Micah overcoming obstacles of nature with the assistance of other humans either creating new tools to overcome hearing loss (NIDCD, 2013) or have humans developing therapies that retrain the brain (Sheikh, 2012). Lack of nurture can include poor or inadequate food and shelter, lack of sensory stimulation, technology used as a ‘babysitter’, or a lack of interaction between parent and child (Harris, 1998). I have also observed too much nurture in my school. Parents may do this by constant monitoring of homework and grades, helping too much with work, overscheduling activities for students, intensive requests for special treatment, or by requesting more homework (Dawson, Clarke, Bredehoft, 2006).

The story of Chris Langan in Outliers (2008) is a classic example of how a lack of nurture can set up a chain of failure for an incredibly intelligent man. It is clear that neither nature nor nurture is the decisive factor in human cognition or moral development. We know more than ever about how the brain functions and how the brain must be well treated to make the most of what is available (Jensen, 2005). Physical and mental conditions can determine just how much growth potential is in a human being. New therapies and technologies are constantly in development, trial, and implementation. Proper nurture in a societal and cultural environment has proven necessary for every individual. Nature and nurture need to be skillfully blended to ensure every child is empowered to attain their full potential (Jensen, 2005).


Society for Neuroscience. (2012). Brain facts: A primer on the brain and nervous system. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from BrainFacts.org:

Genetic epistemology (Jean Piaget). (n.d.). Retrieved on May 29, 2014 from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/genetic-epistemology.html.

WebMD.com. (2014). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Causes of ADHD. Retrieved on June 14, 2014 from http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-causes.

Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

UCSB.edu. (2001). Nature and nurture. Retrieved on June 14, 2014 from http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/baldwin/classes/soc142/n&n.html

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Lev vygotsky. Retrieved on June 2, 2014 from http://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html.

McLeod, S. A. (2008). Erik erikson. Retrieved on May 29, 2014 from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html.

Nucci, L. (2014). Moral development and education: An overview. Retrieved on June 5, 2014 from http://www.moraledk12.org/#!combined-theories/c3q9.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2013). Cochlear implants. Retrieved on June 14, 2014 from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/coch.aspx

Sheikh, S. (2012). Epilepsy: Definition, prevention and the role of occupational therapy. Retrieved on June 14, 2014 from http://www.slideshare.net/betrayer1990/occupational-therapy-for-epilepsy-an-overview

Harris, J.R. (1998). The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way
they do. Retrieved on June 14, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/harris-nurture.html.

Dawson, C. and Clarke, J. and Bredehoft, D. (2006). Overnurturing: Too much of a good thing (When helping stops being helpful). Retrieved from http://www.educarer.com/oi-nurturing.htm

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York, NY: Back Bay Books.

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