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Both sides of the debate Essay

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The purpose of this essay is to describe the arguments relating to nature nurture, providing evidence for both sides of the debate. In addition, an analysis of this evidence will be given and a measured conclusion drawn from the evaluation of such. When attempting to understand the composition and contributing factors to the human personality, both nature and nurture should be taken into consideration, in order to develop a balanced conclusion.

When articulating this debate it is imperative to understand a definition of both nature and nurture.

Nature is the term used to describe the genetic or inherent characteristics of a human and nurture is the term used to define the environmental factors, which contribute to the human persona. Both nature and nurture are now commonly viewed as intrinsic factors, which influence the character of an individual, thus psychologists are interested in the factors which influence behaviour both before and after birth.

However this debate has been one of the most controversial and long-standing issues within psychology.

Philosopher John Locke, writing in the 17th century surmised that all humans are born “tabularasa”, which is the Latin word, meaning “blank slate”. Locke suggested that all individuals have the freedom to determine their disposition. This extends the reader an approximation on the length of this debate. (http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Tabula_rasa)

In opposition to this claim was Francis Galton, who coined the phrase ‘nature nurture’ in 1883, who published a paper on “Hereditary genius”, in which he suggested that typically all distinguished individuals within society were related and that genius is therefore passed on throughout the generations. Galton even went on to argue that individuals with lower levels of intelligence should be prevented from reproducing children. Extremists such as Adolf Hitler later adopted this view during World War two, which subsequently caused the holocaust. (Hayes, 1998, page 31)

The quest to distinguish between the biological characteristics of an individual and the effects of environmental stimulus has aroused the interests of many intellects for the past 300 years. Human traits are difficult to categorise as either due entirely to nature or entirely to nurture, and as such this has created crossover theorists such as Jean Piaget in the 1950’s to extend credence to both nature and nurture contributing to the human persona. Piaget suggested that individuals develop in pre-determined stages, however this requires interaction with the environment.

(Gross, 2005, page 582) Traditionally, the nature nurture debate did attempt to categorise these human traits and as such, this separated psychologists into two distinct groups – empiricists and nativists. Empiricists are those psychologists who believe that the development of an individuals’ persona derives from predominantly environmental stimulus, such as learning and experience. Psychologists such as J. B Watson in 1913 extended credence to “tabularasa”. Watson believed that newborns have no innate content and therefore experience will dictate the persona of any individual.

In contrast to this view, nativists such as Gesell in 1943 believed that an individuals’ persona is determined largely by genetic influences, which have little to do with external factors. As Gesell advised mothers, regarding a child’s personality, to “give up the notion that you can either produce (except through inheritance) or that you can basically change it”. (Hayes, 1998, page 2) Genetic transmission is the term used to describe the process in which humans acquire biological characteristics from their parents.

Cells within the body contain a substance called DNA which is arranged into long strands. These strands are referred to as Chromosomes, which are broken down into smaller units of DNA, known as genes. Humans are composed of 23 pairs of Chromosomes, half of which are passed from the biological mother and half from the biological father. As such an individuals genetic make-up is determined from the moment of conception. What is difficult to ascertain is how much these hereditary genes determine the human persona.

The 23rd pair of chromosomes determines the biological sex into which the cells will form – two X chromosomes produce a female and an X and Y produces a male. (Hayes, 1998, page 3-4) The biological sex of an individual is commonly considered to determine the gender of an individual. Gender can be defined as the role allocated to males and females at birth, according to their biological sex. However, there has been debate over gender and whether male and female genders have been created through the socialisation process which occurs from birth onwards.

This view became popular in the 1960’s, which led to the case study of David Reimer, which supports the nature side of the debate. David Reimer, formally known as ‘Bruce’ underwent a routine circumcision on the 27th April 1966, at the age of 8 months. His twin brother was booked in for the same operation however Bruce was the first to undergo this procedure. The operation was performed by surgeon Jean-Marie Huot, who implemented the circumcision with a cautery machine, which was never intended for use on genitals.

The results were horrific, and Bruce’s penis was ruined. Bruce’s parents consulted Dr John Money a psychologist researching sexual development and gender identity, who advised them that the solution would be sex reassignment, which would involve the removal of Bruce’s testicles and his gender reassigned as female. Money believed that gender was socially constructed and therefore not biologically predicted. Money therefore advocated that Bruce underwent this procedure to ensure a relatively ‘normal’ life. At the age of 22 months old, Bruce became known as Brenda.

Brenda was given female hormones to induce female characteristics, however, this did not aid her in feeling like a girl and by the age of 13 had suicidal tendencies. At the age of 15 Brenda’s parents told her of her gender reassignment and from that point onwards Brenda renamed herself David and resumed her former male gender identity. David’s twin brother Brian was deeply disturbed upon learning of his sister/brothers sex reassignment and later this developed into schizophrenia. (http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/David_Reimer)

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