The Great Nature vs Nurture Debate Essay

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The Great Nature vs Nurture Debate

The Great Nature vs. Nurture Debate

No change in circumstances can repair a defect of character.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the great controversial debates in Psychology is determining if characteristics and
behavior are primarily due to genetics or the environment. We can now readily accept that
genes determine our eye color, height, blood type, and other biological factors. Do
these same genes that determine anatomy also determine our tendency towards traits such as
violence, homosexuality or alcoholism? Some Psychologists, such as Freud, will argue that
the home environment is primarily responsible for molding personality, while others cry
genotype. There have been countless studies to find out if our destiny is written in our
genes or determined by circumstance. Attempting to ascertain whether people are
genetically programmed to be good-natured or prone to violence, sober or alcoholic,
homosexual or heterosexual has perplexed man since the beginning of history. Nature vs.
nurture purists believe that we are either molded entirely by our surroundings or our
genetic make-up, however, it is not necessarily so black and white. Characteristics such
as homosexuality, alcoholism, and violence are determined by both environmental and
genetic factors.

Nature or nurture? The media reports numerous acts of violence every day, for example, in
1998, a 15-year-old boy in a small Oregon town took a gun to school one day and randomly
opened fire on a crowded cafeteria. Was this horrific act a product of nurture or nature?
This individual was supposedly raised in a loving, supportive, two-parent home with a
strong moral upbringing, yet his obsession with weapons and violence may have led to this
tragedy. It is possible that Kip Kinkle was exposed to a great deal of violence on
television and in the media, but it is also likely that, due to a glitch in his
“mainframe”, he was predisposed to violence, hence the attraction to it. If
media exposure is to blame, then it is conceivable to assume that all children will
eventually display similar behavior. To examine another theory, Dean Hamer, a geneticist
at the National Institute of Health, has found evidence that biology could play a part in
determining violent behavior (Pool, 1997). He found that low serotonin levels in the
brain contribute to violent tendencies. So which theory explains Kinkle’s outburst
of seemingly senseless brutality? Based on the evidence that he was raised in a wholesome
community, the most comfortable answer is a biological dysfunction he was born with,
perhaps low serotonin production. We as a society do not want to believe that we are
capable of producing abhorrent individuals, therefore it is easy to choose nature over
nurture as an explanation, even though it is most likely a combination of the two.

One of today’s most controversial arguments is whether homosexuality is due to
chromosomal predetermination or a conscious decision. This argument is fueled by
religious conviction, scientific findings, and standard social structure. Individuals
with certain religious beliefs that cannot believe that God would make or accept a
homosexual support their thoughts by quoting from The Bible, specifically Leviticus. To
defend that theory, passages such as Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male
as with a woman; it is abomination”, or, Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with
a male as with a woman both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to
death; their blood is upon them”, are cited. Based on biblical reference, these
particular individuals interpret that being homosexual is purely a conscious decision, and
could not possibly be genetic. Through testing, scientific researchers have found a link
between biology and homosexuality. An article found in Discover Magazine supports this

“…Hamer found that some male homosexuality is passed through the maternal
side. So he began his search on the X chromosome, which males get only from their mothers.
From each subject he isolated and identified the same set of 22 markers -- short, easily
distinguished stretches of DNA that vary from person to person and that geneticists use to
flag a particular spot on a chromosome. If two brothers shared a marker, chances were
pretty good that they shared the genes in the neighborhood of that marker as well.
Thirty-three of the 40 pairs of brothers, Hamer found, shared the same set of five markers
in a region of the chromosome called Xq28, far too many to be a coincidence. Somewhere in
that region, he concluded, was a gene or genes contributing to the homosexuality of these
men.” (Pool, 1997).

Another study conducted by Bailey and Pillard found that of gay men who had a twin or
adopted brother, 52% of the identical twins, 22% of fraternal twins, and only 11% of the
adoptive brothers were gay. These results suggest that there is a genetic predisposition
to homosexuality (Weiten, 1998). From a societal standpoint, acceptance of either theory
or belief is not necessarily relevant. America’s archetypal relationship is
heterosexual. Although recent breakdowns of social norms have allowed homosexual couples
some of the same privileges as heterosexual couples such as health insurance and legal
marriage, homosexuality is still largely unaccepted. Like the black community of the
1950s and 1960s, homosexuals face heavy discrimination and hate crimes, but unlike the
black community, are not allowed the privilege of legal marriage. In most states, a
homosexual marriage is not recognized even if the couple was wed in a state that does
recognize homosexual union (like Hawaii). For these reasons, it is difficult to believe
that one would choose a homosexual lifestyle. It is a possibility that in some cases
traumatic events in a person’s life may make homosexuality an attractive option. An
example is a woman who is repeatedly abused by men may feel that she cannot trust them and
is only able to find safety with women.

Although the cause of alcoholism is not known, biochemical imbalances in the brain and
heredity have been acknowledged in playing a role. Scientists believe that genes are
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