Nature versus Nurture and Learning among Children

The debate on the impact of heredity and environment on the growth and development of human beings has been going on for a long period of time now. Researchers have traced this ageless debate to as long a time ago as the 13th century. This implies that human beings, particularly researchers are yet to reach a consensus on the significance of nature and nurture on human development.

Those who support the role of nature in human development argue that all behaviour is dictated by genetic or hereditary predispositions that are encoded from the time of conception (Plomin, Corley & Defries, 2007 443). The proponents of the role of nurture in the development of human behaviour emphasise the role of environment in which they are brought up in (Gopnik, 2004 1).

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The essay seeks to explore the nature versus nurture debate in relation to the provision of appropriate learning experiences for children. It will then conclude that much of a child’s learning is influenced by both environmental as well as heredity factors.

Psychological researchers have been engaged in an unending debate on whether a child’s development is directly influenced by heredity and other biological factors or it is by the environment in which the child is born and raised. Both sides have advanced undisputable evidence to support their respective sides.

Of much concern among modern researchers is the determination of the degree of influence of nature and nurture on the development of a child and the provision of learning experiences (Gopnik, 2004 3). We shall focus on the impact of both sides of the debate on the child’s learning.

The advocates of the nature theory of human behaviour argue that a child is born with inherent genetic traits that play a central role when it comes to the general development of the child.

They propose that nature provides the child with the necessary capabilities and capacities required for meaningful learning (Plomin et al., 2007 444). According to Gopnik, a renowned professor of psychology, it is by nature that a child is able to learn and influence the environment and interact with it as well (2004).

She argues strongly against the proposal by John Locke who said that a child is born with a blank mind known as “tabula rasa” on which experiences write on it (Plomin et al., 2007 449). Some of the qualities that have been identified as hereditary include; a persons height, behaviour, and intelligence quotient (IQ), among others.

Investigations conducted by nature theorists on twins who were raised in different environments revealed that they could still exhibit notable similarities. The findings further indicated that measures of personality as well as that of temperament, leisure-time and occupational preferences, and attitudes towards social life were much similar among the twins (Plomin et al., 2007 451).This study, therefore, supports the argument that nature plays a great role in child development.

To contrast, another study was conducted on adopted children who shared the same family environment but no genetic relationship. The findings revealed very minimal similarities among the children, but significant similarities with their actual parents (Gopnik, 2004 23). This emphasises the role of genetic factors in the growth and development of human persons.

With the revelation of the key role that nature plays in child development, educators are enlightened on the appropriate learning experiences that they should provide to individual children (Plomin et al., 2007 453). Understanding the child’s background is therefore crucial in ensuring that the child is exposed to the proper experiences as well as detecting any disabilities that may hinder learning. This knowledge helps teachers and parents in designing appropriate learning experiences for each child early enough (Gopnik, 2004 437).

On the other hand, the role of the environment in shaping human behaviour has received as much support as that of heredity. Scientists have established that the way a child is nurtured can help in determining the child’s general personality/capabilities and behaviour (Plomin et al., 2007 454). They have concluded that most behaviours and habits can be learned from the surrounding in which one is brought up.

The diet that a child is given, for instance, has been demonstrated as influencing the development of some capabilities. A study conducted by psychological researchers where some children were given food enriched with vitamins and minerals revealed significant impact of nutrition on intellectual development (Gopnik, 2004 56). The children scored higher on the same nature of intelligence tests that had been given before.

A group of children who had been put on diet which had not been enriched recorded no meaningful improvements on the same intelligence tests (Plomin et al., 2007 455). Apart from enhancing intellectual capabilities, the researchers noted that it was logically correct to conclude that nutrition impacts on the physical capabilities as well.

Nurture theorists further illustrate that if a child is brought up among wild animals, the child would never develop normally when eventually brought back to live among human beings (Plomin et al., 2007 457).

This argument points to the fact that social behaviour is learned from interaction with other people. For educators, the knowledge of the role of environment in shaping behaviour helps them in developing an environment that is conducive for learning in order to facilitate meaningful development (Plomin et al., 2007 458). John Locke, a renowned advocate of the nurture theory regarded a child’s brain as a blank slate where experiences were to be written upon.

This theory also notes that skills like listening, attentiveness, and following instructions are learned from the environment and determines success in school. Hence, educators have realise that a child must be provided with proper experiences that will facilitate the acquisition of crucial qualities that will in turn enhance learning (Gopnik, 2004 87).

The essay has focused on the two sides of the nature/nurture debate and how each plays a role in the development of human behaviour. It is clear that some qualities are inherent in an individual and are independent of environmental influence. On the other hand, some qualities can be enhanced by the exposure of a child to an appropriate environment.

With these considerations in mind, educators must appreciate the role of both genetic as well as environmental factors in child development. Appropriate learning experiences that enhance both of these need to be provided right from childhood.

Reference List

Gopnik, Alison (2004) Understanding nature vs. nurture. University of California Press, 1-91

Plomin, Richard P., Corley, David R. & Defries, John C. (2007) Nature vs. nurture: cognitive development. [Peer Reviewed Article]. Journal of Psychological Sciences, 8 (3), 443-458


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