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The Nature versus Nurture Debate Essay

The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest psychological debates in history. Its focus is around the impact of genetic inheritance and environmental factors on human development. This means that nativists, the nature side of the debate, believes that one is “born that way”. In contrast empiricists, the nurture side of the debate, believe that traits are learned through life experiences due to one’s environment. Some of the largest controversies are centered on homosexuality and influences on intelligence. (Cherry 2012) notes that “Today, the majority of experts believe that development and behavior are influenced by both nature and nurture.” While there are very few experts that take extreme views of empiricism or nativism, the debate rages on about exactly how much nature and nurture impacts human development respectively. Bobo Doll Study versus 44 Thieves Study

According to (McLeod 2011) “In social learning theory Albert Bandura (1977) states behavior is learned through the process of observational learning. The participants in the bob doll study (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1961) were 36 toddler boys and 36 toddler girls from the Stanford University nursery
school. For this experiment, each child was exposed to a scenario individually as to not be distracted by peers. The main focus of the experiment was the aggression scenario. During the aggressive model scenario, a child and an adult were placed in opposite corners of a room. The adult would use toys to interact with a bob doll, and the child would have the same toys in front of them. In the aggression scenario, the adult would hit the bob doll with a hammer, throw him in the air while yelling at the doll. After about 10 minutes, the experimenter entered the room and dismissed the adult and child. In the nonaggressive model scenario, the adult simply played with the toys and ignored the bob doll. Then after 10 minutes, the experimenter dismissed the adult and child. The traits that were being studied, of course, were aggression, anger, and frustration. During this experiment, judges counted each time a child displayed aggression.

(McLeod 2011) states that “John Bowlby believed that the relationship between the infant and its mother during the first five years of life was most crucial to socialization.” The participants in this study 44 adolescents who were referred to a child protection program in London because of stealing. Another 44 children were chosen to act as ‘controls’. The parents from both groups of children were interviewed to state whether their children had experienced separation during the critical period, and for how long. The traits that were being evaluated in this study were anti-social behavior, and emotional problems.

In researching the two studies, similarities and differences were noticed. Both psychoanalysts seem to have conclusions that align to more of a ‘nurture’ impact on human development. In Bowlby’s study, this was exhibited in his statement that the emotional issues of the thieving children were due to maternal deprivation. Bandura attempted to prove nurture over nature due to the children adapting behavior that they witnessed from the adult model. Another similarity that these two studies have in common is the fact that young children and adults were both used in the experiments. Historically this has been found to be the case for nature versus nurture studies. Some contrasting elements of these studies are also prevalent. For example, the Bandura’s bob doll study was performed on children that come from fairly wealthy backgrounds. The children were in the Stanford University nursery school, and during that time, only upper-class white Americans could afford such a school. Just the opposite was Bowlby’s selection of children. These children were 44 thieving children, and most of them were reared without an attachment to their mothers. This, of course, was Bowlby’s main point. Another difference that was noted in the two studies was the fact that Bandura was more focused on the traits of aggression, while Bowlby’s experiment was centered on anti-social behavior.

In conclusion, research uncovered that according to (Bowlby 1944) “Affectionless psychopaths show little concern for others and are unable to form relationships.” He also concluded that the reason for anti-social behavior and emotional problems in the group was due to maternal separation in the beginning years of life for a substantial amount of time. According to (Bandura Ross & Ross 1961), during the bob doll study, it was found that children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in physically aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model. For those children exposed to the aggressive model, the number of imitative physical aggression exhibited by the boys was 38.2 and 12.7 for girls.


Cherry, K. (2012). What is Nature versus Nurture? Retrieved from: http://psychology.about.com/od/nindex/g/nature-nurture.htm

McLeod, S. (2011). Bandura –Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

McLeod, S. (2011). Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. Retrieved from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/bowlby.html

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