Nature and Nurture         (N&N)
          All aspects of human behavior are affected by both nature and nurture, operating together (N&N). Nature refers to all the evolutionary factors that have shaped the genetics that we have inherited from our parents and ancestors. Nurture refers to all the things that have influenced us since we began to develop (from the moment we were conceived). Nature determines the range of our human potential. Nurture affects the ways that our human potential is actualized, being helped or hindered by good or bad environmental inputs.

          Many people like to get into simplistic arguments about "Nature versus Nurture," trying to trace various behaviors back to either nature or nurture. This creates a very simplistic "either-or" logic that usually fails to grasp the rich complexities of human behavior. John advocates your studying all behavior in terms of both nature and nurture -- as they interact and work together. He likes "bio-social" theories of behavior that are built on the view that nature and nurture are always intertwined. We are biological organisms and our genes are always decoding information for the new chemicals that constitute our body (and brain). But we are also affected by many of the environmental inputs that constitute "nurture," in the sense that they help or hurt us in ways that the genes cannot predict or control.

An Example
          Consider intelligence. Part of our intelligence and brain-function is determined by our genetics; and that is the nature part of the N&N equation. But it takes nurture for the genetic information about brain structure to be developed into the actual brains and intelligence that we have at age 5 or 10 or 20. Let us consider both nature and nurture in the following paragraphs

        Nature: Some people have family genetics that gives them a great advantage in developing their musical intelligence or mathematical intelligence or verbal intelligence. You may have a complex mix of all sorts of genetic potentials for excellence in various aspects of human life. That does not mean that you will automatically develop those potentials: It merely shows that you have a genetic possibility for outstanding development. However, you may not develop your musical potential if you are raised in a home with no musical instruments or encouragement to pursue music.

          Brains may vary as much as human faces and hands do. We can all recognize that newborn babies have different facial structures and finger sizes. But our faces and hands change over the years, as we grow, get injuries, sunburns and exercise different muscles (by smiling or frowning lots). It is very likely that we are all born with slightly different brains; but we "exercise" different parts and the architecture or structure of the different parts change, based on our own developmental patters.

          Hence, there is no single human potential. We all have unique potentials. And we all have different socializations that allow us to develop different parts of our own unique potentials. We cannot change our genetic inheritance; but we can affect the way that our genetic potential is developed through the nurturing processes.

        Nurture: The nurture of intelligence has many components and there are countless different ways that nurture affects our brains and smarts. First, there are chemicals that affect our intelligence. For example, children who eat food or objects that contain lead develop irreversible damage to their brains, and this reduces their intelligence for the rest of their lives. This is one of the reason that laws have been passed to prevent lead from being used in gasoline and paint (where they once were common).

          Oxygen deprivation can also kill brain cells; and newborn babies who cannot breath well (because of premature birth or clogged air tubes) lose brain cells and suffer irreparable damage to their potential for intelligence. Various diseases can also damage the brain and hamper intelligence.

          On the other hand, there are all sorts of positive environmental inputs that can enhance intelligence -- and help individuals develop their genetic potential for excellent memory, logical thinking, and fast information processing. Good diet and exercise are basic prerequisites for the development of a healthy brain. Mental stimulation from living in an exciting environment is also important. That is why some parents place their infants in cribs with several stimulating toys and spend hours playing and interacting with their infants. All through childhood and adulthood, people who live in stimulating environments are likely to benefit from mental stimulation that activates their brain cells, develops their logical skills and makes them intellectually quick. A challenging education is important, where "education" does not just mean formal schooling -- but also all the real life learning that could fill our 16 to 18 waking hours. Having exciting friends who love to talk about broad ranges of topics is wonderful. Actually getting out into the world and using your body to act upon your knowledge is far more important than "couch potatoes" recognize. Passive people do not have as well developed brains as active people.

Nature and Nurture Together

          The prior example of intelligence shows that both nature and nurture work together in producing intelligence. Having great genes alone is worth little if intelligence is not nurtured in healthy and stimulating environments. Sometimes people assume that they have great "native" intelligence ("good genes") and they think that they do not have to work hard at being smart. They may be hurt by their own assumption that nature alone is important in developing their potential. Nature and nurture always work together: Both are important.

          A study in Hawaii showed that children who had serious setbacks to intellectual development in their early years were sometimes able to excel if the early damage was counteracted with wonderful environmental inputs as the years passed. The negative effects of "damaging factors" can be offset by the positive powers of "protective factors," which include loving mentors, exciting opportunities, challenging tasks or jobs, and rewards for using what brain capacity one has. John will discuss these protective factors in the part of Soc 142 called "American Socialization."

          John will stress both nature and nurture all through the course, and he will show you how they intertwine in multiple ways. Hopefully, this will show you that it is simplistic to think of nature and nurture in terms of "either-or." When you hear people trying to trace any behavior to either nature or nurture, you will realize that they have a simplistic view of human conduct.

July '01
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