What Is Meant by the Nature Versus Nurture Debate?

The nature versus nurture debate seeks to determine to what extent inherited and learned aspects impact the behavior of a person. Different approaches in the field of psychology focus on one side, or both, to a varying degree. The biological approach and behaviorism occupy the two ends of the spectrum.

The nature aspect of the debate includes genes and other hereditary factors that determine physical features and personal characteristics, whereas nurture encompasses the variables from the person’s surroundings, including culture, social norms, education, childhood experiences and the way the person was raised by his parent or caregiver.

Those who consider that human behavior and characteristics can be attributed solely to genetic inheritance are called nativists. They believe that the differences in behavior between individuals are the result of different genetic traits they inherited from their parents. On the other side of the debate reside the empiricists who believe that every person is born with a mind that begins as a blank slate, also known as a tabula rasa. Behaviorism is an approach to psychology that is deeply rooted in empiricism, which leads its proponents to believe that all behavior and characteristics can be learned or instilled through training.

As of 2014, a large number of experts believe that taking just one side in this debate is the wrong approach and that the development of a person’s behavior depends on both nature and nurture. In this view, the focus of the debate falls on how the two aspects intermingle and modulate one another.