One area of particular interest is intelligence. The first issue is the definition of intelligence. Some see intelligence as related to adaptation to the environment, the qualitative aspects. But most definitions relate to the quantitative aspects of intelligence, the measurement of intelligence using psychometric tests, in order to compare ‘how much’ of it different people possess. In 1911 Binet developed what is generally accepted as the first intelligence test, with the aim of identifying children who needed extra academic help. He did this by developing a range of questions and establishing how old a child should be when it could first answer them, children who took the test could then be compared to what was considered to be ‘the norm’.
As with all areas of the nature nurture debate there are some extreme views. One such view is that of Galton, a nativist. In 1884 he “wrote a paper on ‘hereditary genius’, in which he showed that eminent people in society tended to be related, and that genius seemed to run in families. He argued that this showed that intelligence must be inherited” (Hayes and Orrell 1998, P.31).
Behaviourists would argue this view by pointing out that something that runs in families does not necessarily happen because it is genetic, as families also provide a certain environment, and this can also have a substantial influence on intelligence. An example of this is Skeels (1966) study of “a group of children removed from orphanages into more stimulating environments. Most of those raised by foster mothers showed significant improvements in their IQ, whereas those raised in the orphanage had dropped out of high school, or were still institutionalised or not self-supporting”.
Gender identity is another area of the nature nurture debate. One argument is that girls and boys learn to behave differently through being treated differently and by observing others and imitating what they see to be sex-appropriate behaviour. For example, boys are given cars and guns to play with, their rooms decorated in blue with an emphasis on more boisterous play and assertive behaviour, whereas girls are given dolls and wear pink dresses with an emphasis on nurturtant behaviour.
The opposing argument is that males and females are biologically programmed for certain activities associated with gender roles. A very famous, but sad, supporting example is that of David Reimer. As a result of an accident during circumcision, one of a pair of identical twins lost his penis. At 22 months he was surgically castrated, oestrogen was given and a vaginal canal constructed. He was subsequently raised as a girl named Joan. Aged 4, Joan preferred dresses to trousers, took pride in her appearance and was cleaner than her brother. Psychologists Money and Erhardt (1972) used these findings to support the view that gender identity is inherited.
In reality Joan suffered years of bullying and was an extremely unhappy adolescent. Just before her 16th birthday Joan decided to stop living as a girl and underwent sex change surgery just before his 16th birthday. He made several attempts on his life before having a second operation on his penis aged 21. He did meet and fall in love with a single mother of three children, but his unhappy childhood continued to haunt him until he committed suicide in 2004, he was in his late thirties. (Gross 2005, P.626)
In conclusion, and after taking into account all the evidence I don’t think it is possible to say that any aspect of human development happens purely because of biological or environmental influences. I would have to agree with the interactionists and say that human traits are determined by both nature and nurture, though I’m sure the debate over the relative contributions of each will continue until the end of time.
Bibliography & Sources
Hayes, N., and Orrell, S., 1998. Psychology an Introduction. 3rd ed. Essex: Pearson Education Gross, R. 2005. Psychology The Science of Mind and Behaviour. 5th ed.