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How Much is Behavior Based on Nature Versus Nurture?

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photo by Mindaugas Danys

photo by Mindaugas Danys/flickr


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Do Now

To what extent should we take into account genetic pre-dispositions when evaluating and responding to other people’s actions?

Introduction

Science has identified two major influences which affect the person you grow to be: nature (your innate qualities and genetics) and nurture (your personal experiences and environment). These two factors play a major role in the upbringing of a human, but to what extent does each contribute to how a person behaves? Many remain polarized on how to factor genetics into our actions and reactions, or whether we should take them into account at all. With opportunities to send off your saliva for genome sequencing, the option to consider genetics when preventing or reacting to behaviors is tempting. Certain courtrooms are beginning to accept defenses citing biomedical explanations about aggression genes, and even toddler tantrums can be dealt with differently according to genetic findings. Do we need to consider genetics before judging or responding to somebody?

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal states that environmental sensitivity is directly attributable to genetic factors. These scientists have categorized people into two general groups: the orchids, whose behaviors are much more susceptible to environmental factors, and the dandelions, who are relatively less affected by external factors. These differences in environmental sensitivity are due to variations in genes that regulate dopamine production, such as DRD4. Those who produce less dopamine – the orchids – have a tendency to wilt under stringent and negative conditions and to flourish under stable and positive conditions.

According to the data, there was clear-cut evidence that the children with a DRD4 variant were more responsive (i.e. decreased aggression) when exposed to positive changes in parental treatment. This indicates that taking genetics into account can in fact promote better informed responses to behaviors. Yet some scientists question the validity of a genetic predisposition to environmental sensitivity, and others mention confounding factors such as natural variation in people’s genetics or upbringing, among a host of other influences. How much emphasis should we place on genetics when evaluating other’s actions, or responding to them?

Resource


New York Times video To Study Aggression, a Fight Club for Flies
A recent aggression study using fruit flies may be the start to a deeper understanding of genetic links to aggression and uncontrollable anger; although flies and humans are very different organisms, the study implicates there may be some parallel implications for mammals.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowNurture

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.


More Resources

NOVA video Criminal Minds: Born or Made?
How do genes, brain structure, and the environment interact to create criminals rather than rule-abiding citizens? NOVA explores recent science behind genetic predisposition to violence and aggression.

NPR Talk of the Nation audioTwins Data Reshaping Nature Versus Nurture Debate
Listen as researcher Peter Miller of National Geographic Magazine explains new research regarding genetics’ role in the shaping of who we are, and the field of epigenetics through the lens of (seemingly) identical twins.

Metro article What Gives Us Our Personality? Nature Takes on Nurture
This article presents views from a child clinical psychologist and a neuroscientist on the link between genetic inheritance and personality.


KQED Do Now Science is a monthly activity in collaboration with California Academy of Sciences. The Science Do Now is posted every second Tuesday of the month.

This post was contributed by youth from the Spotlight team within The California Academy of Sciences’ Careers in Science Intern Program. CiS is a multi-year, year-round work-based youth development program for young people from groups typically under-represented in the sciences.


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Category: Do Now, Do Now: Science

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About the Author ()

The California Academy of Sciences is a leading scientific and cultural institution based in San Francisco. It is home to an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and research and education programs, which engage people of all ages and backgrounds on two of the most important topics of our time: life and its sustainability. Founded in 1853, the Academy’s mission is to explore, explain and sustain life. Visit www.calacademy.org for more information.
  • Hunter Robertson

    I think that a lot of it is pre-disposed, but can be changed.

  • Eve

    When evaluating people’s actions, we should take pre-disposed genetics as a contribute, but it’s not a major contribution since our genes could change due to other factors such as environment and lifestyle.

  • david ramos

    wow great article very informative

  • Timothy S.

    Genetics sound like an excuse for not taking responsibility for your actions. You made the choice not your DNA

  • Willis C.

    How much is this generation really affected by such genes?

  • Samuel Myers

    I like this article its very interesting

  • Alexa De Vera

    It does seem like your genes can affect the way you react to certain things in the environment

  • Angelica Gutierrez

    The environment you live in can really affect your genes !

  • Cj Torres

    Your genes can always be affected by your actions and what environment you chose to live in.

  • Nathan Cao

    People in different environments generally feel differently and live differently than other people. While I do feel like someone’s genes influence one’s character greatly, there is possibility for their surrounding environment to affect them as well.

  • Celeste McBride

    While I realize that people all have different experiences and different parentage and this changes how they view the world, I don’t think it’s justified to respond to people differently based on their genetics. It smacks of aristocracy. Secondly, people cannot control many aspects of their nurture (how they are treated as a young child etc). If we are taking nature into account, we must take nurture into account to.

    • Sheen Chiu

      “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes, they forgive them.” ~Oscar Wilde
      I agree since genetics is our nature, however, the experience that we gain as we age changes our views in our small world and the world.

  • FresnoRaisin97

    I think this article raises an interesting question. I, personally, think that genetics should not play such a large role in our views of behavior, but that article from the Wall Street Journal was interesting. My original opinion was that behavior was almost completely based off of environment. The article, however, opened a pathway that can actually link environment with genetics (instead of just genetics determining whether or not someone is more aggressive). What I mean by that is that the article did not just say “person X has this gene and is, therefore, more aggressive”. Instead, the article took a more relatable approach and actually linked different genes to the impact they might have on an individuals adaptation to environment (“person X has this gene which makes him or her more likely to be impacted by his or her environment and is, therefore, more aggressive”). In the end, there may be something to this argument. There is a reason some people are athletes and some are not. Similarly, there is a reason some people debate and others do not. Some people are just born with more drive and aggression and it doesn’t always have to do with upbringing. Just to relate this to a personal story, my parents did not raise me around a bunch of sports and competition, but I always had a love of competition which was most likely not from my parents’ influence. But this is somewhat of a different matter. There is a difference between aggressive personality (like that of an athlete) and aggressive behavior (like that demonstrated in a temper tantrum). While some of us may be naturally (genetically) more aggressive, our environment is what teaches us how to control our aggression, so in the end, the environment plays a larger role in the actual behavior of people.

  • RobinHood82

    Knowledge of someone’s genes can be useful for finding different parenting or teaching styles that work best for different people. However, it’s important that having different genes does not become a way of justifying behaviors or an excuse for not trying to improve.

  • Alberto Garcia

    I find this article interesting because it makes me wonder what my behavior is based on.

    • mariam

      same

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  • RJ Parker

    Nature is more about genetics and how we come (pre packaged). Nurture is more about our environment and what effects us. I believe that both are equally important. I believe that we come having already developed some traits that are inborn and define much of who we are. But our environment can effect us greatly as well. An example would be a kid that was raised in an orphanage vs. someone raised in a loving family. Their environments are totally different – but based on their nature – some will overcome their obstacles and make something of their lives, while others will use their nurture (environment) as an excuse for why they haven’t done anything with their lives. It is a very interesting topic.

    • Kayce

      I agree with you, I believe they both have a little influence in the way someone can act.

  • Alyssa

    I truly believe that people choose how they act what they want to be.

    • Erik L.

      I agree with you, however, if someone were to have a traumatic experience, would that change the way they act?

      • Alyssa

        Yes, it could possibly change the way someone would act if they were to have a traumatic experience but also it depends on the person because some people it will not affect.

  • kiara

    I believe that we should consider genetics before judging because we don’t choose to be born with a disorder we’re just born with it.

  • Stephanie

    Nature does play a big role, but so does nurture. Nature has to do with your genetics, while nurture is your morals, experiences, and environment. People should take genetics into consideration before judging a person, because they may have a condition that makes them act or think a certain way.

    • kelly

      I strongly agree with stephanie

    • Sela123

      I agree.

    • Meghan

      I strongly agree with you

    • Estefania

      I agree with you Stephanie

    • kiara

      I agree with Stephanie.

    • Erik L.

      I strongly agree with you Stephanie.

  • lizeth

    Personally I believe that nature and nurture are equally important and play a significant role on peoples lives. Your genes are something that you are born with but your experiences and how you were raised also make you the person you are today.

    • Alyssa

      I agree.

    • alicia

      I agree with lizeth.

    • ya girl ave$

      I love you

  • mariam

    I definitely believe that we should value genetics before judging somebody. However, both nature and nurture play a big part to a person’s behavior. They play equal parts.

    • Vanessa

      Same, I agree.

      • Fernyindahouse

        #Same, they can be affected by both.

  • Vanessa

    Nature vs. nurture, they are equal. Your behavior is equally affected by your own genes as well as the environment. Think twice before judging someone.

  • Caitlin

    I believe behavior and actions are a little of both nature and nurture. You are born the way you are with characteristics already, but you are also put into different situations that can also affect your behavior. I think all of this should be taken into consideration before you say something about someone because you don’t know what they have experienced.

    • Sydney Fox

      I agree with you Caitlin. Nature and nurture are both big factors in how a person behaves.

  • Kayce

    I find that this article is very informational and explains a little about how people do.
    I believe that we should not judge someone on the way they act and do because it is both nurture and nature that explains the way someone may act and do. Some one could be mentally retard and he/she may not be able to understand real world things, but may be the kindest person you know because of they way they were brought up.

  • Sydney Fox

    We need to consider nature before we judge others because we are all born with our own personalities and genes passed to us from our parents. Genetics have a lot to do with who we are and why we act or look a certain way, and we should consider a person’s genetics before we judge them.

  • Celeste

    Yes we do need to consider genetics before judging or responding to somebody because nature is our genes and we can not control them. Though nurture can effect us too.

  • kelly

    We shouldn’t judge anybody automatically because people are different from others, everyone had their own way of being raised.

  • Fernyindahouse

    This article is very interesting, I think that people are both born into the way they are and influenced by other people when growing up. They could be brought up one way but later change into something they believe in.

  • Jada

    In consideration to this article, I believe people are born a certain way based on their nature and nurture. Nature is a genetic placement and nurture is a raised and effect from our environment and experiences. People are born a certain way due to genetics however, people are commonly effected by their environments and family. I believe we as people should take into consideration any problems that people may have that effects them in a physical or mental way. Nature and nurture have an equal effect on a persons behavior. We should be respectful to all people despite their behavior or personality because we do not know their genetics or their environment and families. I believe that people should understand a person’s genetics and how they were brought up before responding or judging someone.

    • Caitlin

      I agree Jada

    • Isabel

      I agree

    • Desiree

      i strongly agree with jada.

  • Joshua

    I think we should consider genetics before judging or responding to somebody. We don’t know what is different about that person and just because they are different doesn’t mean we should treat or respond to them differently as well.

    • Sela123

      I agree with this.

      • Kierstyn W

        I agree

    • Amber

      I agree with you; however, if someone acted towards me in a threatening manner I would not sit there and think about how they were raised or who their parents are. I would respond to the persons chosen actions towards me.

  • Sela123

    I believe that we have to consider how people were raised, but also that they are born the way they are. People cannot help if they were born with certain behavioral disorders or mental disorders. People often do not choose the way they are. Also sometimes their surroundings and peers have an affect on how they behave and they may not know. Also what people have been through or experienced has a huge effect on how they behave. We have to be wary of how we judge people because they may have gone through something traumatic or have a disorder some of us may not understand.

    • Erik

      I agree, genetics and experiences both play big factors in our personality.

    • Joshua

      I agree with you Sela

    • Jada

      I strongly agree with you because you state your opinion on both nature and nurture. People are born a certain way as well as raised a certain way. Both contribute to a one’s behavior.

    • Isaac

      I Strongly Disagree…

    • Jessica

      I agree, we should always consider everyones circumstances before judging.

    • reecespuff

      no no no no no

    • Shelby.B

      I agree with you completely! People can not be judged entirely based on genetics, how you are raised plays such a huge role in how you act and who you turn out to be, although genetics do determine what type of things you are apt to do it is hard to create an image for yourself based entirely on what your nature is.

  • Isaac

    I think nurture has everything to do with it. I believe that people get to choose what they like and what they don’t.

    • Camryn

      proud of you

    • Celeste

      I agree.

    • Fernyindahouse

      That’s my boy! I support you 100%

    • Sela123

      I disagree with this. You should consider the other side of the story and that people are born with disorders they don’t necessarily like.

    • reecespuff

      i agree with strongly with isaac

  • alicia

    In my opinion, I think that nurture plays a big role in who you are because it has to do with how you were raised and your experiences but nature also plays a significant role because you are born with genes that make you the person you are today.

  • Guest

    We should take into consideration someones genetic makeup before perceiving thoughts about them, however I believe nuture makes up the majority of who you are. I think it’s more about the environment you are raised in than what you’re born with.

    • Isaac

      I Highly Doubt Dat!!

  • Erik

    I do not believe that we should judge people at all. I believe that we should consider genetics, because there are genes that make us do things a certain way, such as, walking a certain way, facial expressions, or behavioral disorders. We must first find out why a person acts a certain way and understand why.

    • Sela123

      I strongly agree with you.

  • Jessica

    I believe we should consider genetics before judging people because everyone has different backgrounds. Genes make up what we look like and act, we can’t control that.

    • Isaac

      I Strongly Disagree!

  • Camryn

    We should take into consideration someones genetic makeup before perceiving thoughts about them; however, I believe nuture makes up the majority of who you are. I think it’s more about the environment you are raised in than what you’re born with.

  • Estefania

    We shouldn’t judge people by their nurture because we don’t know how they were raised. There are many people that have been raised in a different way and that’s why they act how they act.

  • Jonathon

    I believe that nature and nurture have an equal influence on how someone is but i think nurture has a greater influence on someone later on in there life.

    • comic kid

      i believe you right

    • Justin R.

      I agree with you because I believe that people are molded by their experiences and beliefs and that effects them in life.

    • Greg

      I agree with you Jonathon it does have a greater influence.

  • reecespuff

    i think that nurture has a bigger role than nature because even if you are born a certain way, you can still be raised differently.

    • Isaac

      You Are Speaking Da Truth!!!

  • Bianca

    I believe nurture has a big part because they chose what they want to be and the environment you were raised in. Although nature is a part of their genetics and will always take part in who they are, therefor we should judge someone by their appearance, their actions or the way they were raised.

  • jadzilla

    I feel it is a combination of nature and nurture. Though you can be predispositioned to a physical or mental illness, how you are raised and the way in which you grow up also has an effect.

    • ryan c

      truth

  • ya girl ave$

    I believe we are a combination of both nature and nurture but more on the nurture side. We chose what we want and by the way we are raised can differ us from people. But then we have an evil side and feel like what we want destroy everything but then that’s just a normal human being trait :)

    • Nat$$

      U right U right

      • ryan c

        same

      • ya girl ave$

        Thank you Natalie.

  • Justin R.

    I believe that nurture is bigger than nature because people are molded by their experiences and beliefs and that effects them in life.

    • jadzilla

      i totally agree bro

      • ya girl ave$

        I strongly agree my dude

    • Nat$$

      I disagree

    • ryan c

      i strongly disagree

    • osvaldo

      Ryan worded it better. jk

  • comic kid

    i believe that nature and nurture would go hand and hand.

  • Maritza

    I believe we are a combination of both nature and nurture. All though i strongly believe we are more about nurture.Your environment and experiences will always have an effect on you as a person.

  • riece

    Nature affects certain traits including your level if intellectual development. In my opinion, nurture affects people more because once your born, nurture immediately begins its affects.

    • ya girl ave$

      I love you. I agree with you.

  • Anessa

    I believe it is a combination of both.

    • kalysia

      I agree

    • Desiree

      same, i agree

  • Andrew

    I think that a person’s genetics does a measurable amount of who a person is, but the way they’re nurtured and cared for does a great part to determine a person’s values and how they deal with situations, furthermore we should take into account a person’s genetics into our judgement, but it doesn’t make up 100% of who they are.

    • Raina

      #same

    • Hailey

      I agree

    • Anessa

      Well said..

    • Andy

      I totally agree #iownswag

  • Kierstyn W

    I think nature is a big part because you are who you are and you grow up that way.

  • osvaldo

    I believe that nurture does have an impact on how one lives and how they are raised but I also believe that your genes will make the outcome of your future.

    • christiani

      i strongly agree

  • ryan c

    i believe that nurture is bigger that nature because people are modeled by their experences and beliefs and that effects them in life.

    • jadzilla

      turn up my dude #Iagree

    • Nat$$

      I agree

    • osvaldo

      I agree

    • ya girl ave$

      I believe you 100% preach it

    • Fabiola

      I strongly agree with you

    • Anessa

      What if they had a disorder that effects their behavior? Is nurture still the one to blame?

      • ryan c

        yes because its how you treat the disorder that effects the behavior @anessa

    • comic kid

      i agree

  • Raina

    Nature plays a part but to an extent, meaning illnesses and diseases that cause one to act a certain way could in fact alter their personalities. However; Nurture plays a huge part as well. If a person were to get abused, or have their trust tested they could grow up to be violent, or aggressive because that was how they were raised, and that is the behavior that they learned. No two people are the same, because no two people had the exact same experiences that the other has had. Meaning, there is no way that two people could both have identical personalities due to nature.

    • Andrew

      I agree

    • ryan c

      #agree

  • Hailey

    I believe nurture plays a big role in who people are because it has to do with how people were raised and experiences people have had, but nature also has a significant role because people were born with genes that they have today and they can’t change them, it makes them the person they are today.

    • Maritza

      i agree

  • Anessa

    I believe that nature and nurture are both equally the same.

    • riece

      Same

  • Fabiola

    I think that people are nature when the are born but then its up to the parents on how to raise them so then its nurture.

    • Alondra

      same

  • Amber

    I believe that nature has a lot of influence on nurture. For example, If it was in my Fathers genetics to have anger issues and my brother grew up with watching his actions it could be in his nurturing to be angry; however, where do we draw the line in allowing these two factors to be excuses for a humans actions?

    • Mikaela

      I agree.

    • Raina

      I agree Amber, a lot of people are who they are because of what they were surrounded by and raised with

  • Greg

    I believe the nurture and nature are basically the same thing but, it’s mostly nurture. :p

    • Amber

      I’m sorry but can you elaborate more? How are they the same?

    • ryan c

      no

  • Alexandra

    I think nurture and nature are the same but later in life you are influenced by the enviorment you’re in and what you’re born with.

  • Shelby.B

    I believe that nurture plays a huge role in who a person will turn out to be as they get older. Nature of course creates the base of what a person is apt to do in their lives and how they will act but nurture can trigger a person into doing things that their nature never intended. I think that how a person acts should not be entirely based on nature because nurture can cause a person to see things differently and handle things in a way that others wouldnt.

    • Maritza

      agreed

    • Brooke

      I agree

  • Victoria

    I believe that nature and nurture have an equal influence on how someone is but I think nurture has a greater influence on someone later in there life because of the people they surround themselves with and the environment they are in.

    • Maritza

      YAS

  • Julissa

    I believe both nature and nurture play an equal part on how a person is.

  • kalysia

    I believe it is a combination nurture and nature.You can have the genetics which is the nature to be something but the nurture from others can change who you become.

    • Brooke

      #same

  • Brooke

    Genetics have a lot to do about who we are and how we act. I believe that we should consider nature before we judge someone on what their personality is like. But I think both of nature and nurture play an equal role.

    • kalysia

      I like that

  • Alondra

    I believe both nature and nurture play an equal part on how it affects the person.

    • Guest

      I disagree

  • Mikaela

    In my opinion nature and nurture are equal. The way in which you act and the choices you make might have something to do with the way you were raised which is nurture. Nature is human genetics, so if your parents have a genetic disorder you might have the same disorder. These both are equally exposed in life.

  • Darah

    I believe that nurture can affect a person more then nature because its the people who influence them, it’s partially how they were raised, and their home life can all affect them. Nature also has an effect on the person too. I don’t believe we should judge anyone especially based on someones appearance, or what they have.

    • Maritza

      yes darah you go girl

  • nick

    I believe that nature and nurture both have an equal influence on a person. It’s our nature to become something but we can be nurtured to become something else.

    • ya girl ave$

      I love you. I agree strongly with you my brother from another mother.

  • Kim

    I believe we are a combination of both nature and nurture. I think that nurture plays a bigger role because in the end it’s your choice the way you want to behave and view life. However, relating to nature, someone could have been born with a disability that limits them so not everything is their choice.

  • Andy

    nurture has a bigger role in life and nature is the foundation of someone’s actions and personality.

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