The Nature-Nurture Debate Essay examples

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How the Pendulum Swings: The Nature-Nurture Debate


One of the most intriguing science-and-culture debates of the twentieth century is that of the origin of behavior. The issue that has its roots in biology and psychology is popularly framed as the "nature versus nurture" debate. At different points in time, consensus has swung from one to the other as the supposed cause of our actions. These changes are not only the result of an internal dynamic but were subject (as they are today) to external influences, most notably politics and developments in other academic disciplines. The oversimplified polarities in this case-study illustrate an important characteristic of the larger scientific process. In search of a more refined theory
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Its proponent, biologist Edward O Wilson (1975)2, "speculated incautiously on the genetic basis of human social behavior, and often with regard to highly complex, situation-sensitive behavior" (Barlow, 1991)1, which drove the groups involved in the nature-nurture debate back into their opposite corners. Wilson was accused of being "politically motivated, even if he were himself unaware of it" while his own critics, as Barlow (1991)1 points out, were openly political in their approach to science. The Sociobiology Study Group, for example, applied Marxist philosophy to their practice of science, emphasizing environmental influences above biological. They were shown, along with the rest of the world, that environmentalist determinism in the form of social engineering in the Soviet Union, is as dangerous as genetic determinism.

Opponents in the debate also positioned themselves along traditional academic lines. The development of behavioral psychology, a crucial component in the history of the nature-nurture debate, was itself highly influenced by the biological sciences and all that they espoused. As Rem B. Edwards (1999)3 notes:


Behaviorism arose in psychology out of frustration with older introspective approaches to mind and consciousness that appeal to direct awareness of mental states and processes, and out of the desire to turn psychology into a proper natural science with an empirical methodology and subject matter, one that makes claims that are…

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