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Essay on Nature versus Nurture

Nature or Nurture: Which Influences Us Most?

For a long time past, scientists have puzzled over why some individuals are born even-tempered while others are highly aggressive and even go on to behave violently. There are researchers in the world who claim that much depends on the biological make-up of a person, but there are others who disagree, saying that the role of the environment and how it shapes people’s personalities is vital. Those who oppose the theory that behavior is influenced by biology claim that biological elements are only capable of influencing physical traits, e.g., a person’s height, type of body, color of eyes and hair, and general appearance. However, this claim is only true to a certain extent. At birth, every individual is endowed with numerous nerve cells – around a hundred billion actually. These are not connected until a child reaches the age of three. In this time, the connections are determined by emotional, cultural, and social factors.    

Stories even abound about feral children i.e. those brought up by animals. Abandoned by parents, members of the animal kingdom took it upon themselves to nurture these children. The consequences were dire. The children’s teeth had been sharpened to an excessive extent; they hunted chickens, ate earth, and craved blood. Their love of the dark, skill at climbing trees like wild animals, and their habit of forming friendships with birds, monkeys, dogs and even leopards could shock a person into numbness.   

Sad though these experiences are, they show how our identities, particularly early on in life, are critically dependent on the way we are brought up. Needless to say, if an adult was placed in this environment, they would not fear people as these unfortunate children did nor would they develop animal-like behaviors. 

In recent times, criminologists too have been taking a close interest in this perplexing question. They are working hard to locate a criminal “gene” in people who have already engaged in crime. Their aim is to find out what it is exactly that causes a person to turn to crime. So far, different experiments and studies have been undertaken. One study in 2014 (Boyd) showed how it is more likely that identical twins who are brought up separately will turn to crime than two separate siblings raised in the same way.  

Another field that criminologists are interested in exploring in greater depth is neuroscience, which means studying the brain. As the methods that allow experts to study the make-up of the brain and how it functions become better known and not so invasive, scientists are becoming better at mapping the brain of humans and, therefore, at finding out how people’s brains differ. To date, studies are showing that the brain of a criminal is different in its structure and chemical make-up when this is compared to the brains of those who are not criminals. Again in the 2014 study referred to earlier (Boyd), it was shown that the activity in that part of the brain that controls fear and arousal is not so great in those who engage in certain types of crime. This gives rise to the theory that those who fear consequences less behave in a more irresponsible manner.  

Therefore, the founder of the theory that criminals differ biologically to their non-criminal counterparts seems proven as correct. However, factors such as mass media, friends, family situations, levels of poverty, and availability of jobs cannot be brushed aside.  

Sigmund Freud, the renowned psychologist, says there are three personality levels in every individual. Superego is the third level, and it is this that controls how conscious people are of their actions, how to distinguish right and wrong, and it is the level where morality or conscience is developed. According to Roach, 2015, the superego of a person is influenced directly not just by an internal driver but also by society’s rules or mores.   

No one, of course, chooses their family, and anyone can be the product of a difficult or non-conventional family with no control over the genes they inherit. However, this will never become apparent in some people who are raised in a secure and loving family. Likewise, some people who are born into good families become delinquents at an early age. Often, it is over-indulgent parents that are the reason for this bad behavior. Thus, the child grows up in an environment of impunity or permissiveness and carries these traits into adulthood. Everything considered, the results of the above studies seem to lead to the conclusion that heredity only influences people’s behavior, manner of thinking, and personality to the tune of 20% and it is their physical, situational, and social environment that influences the other 80% of behavior.