Nature Vs Nurture: The Debate

Posted On December 9, 2021

“In the real world there is no Nature vs Nurture argument, only an infinitely complex and moment-by-moment interaction between genetic and environment effects.”

— Gabor Mate

It’s the argument that anybody in the social scientific field tackles, namely what is the root of one’s behaviour? Is it the environment or their biology? 

This discussion centres on whether human behaviours and features are the product of environmental circumstances (i.e., nurture) or heredity (i.e., nature). Some studies have proposed that individuals may be predisposed to criminal behavior through their genetics; however, if they have a good upbringing, they might not engage in criminal behavior.

In practice, the nature vs nurture debate is seen as the framework of discussions on the underlying causes of certain behaviours. Social and environmental theories have dominated criminology, in contrast to the biological theories which have been seen as outdated and discredited. The general assumption is that everybody’s behaviour is influenced to varying degrees by both genetic and environmental factors. The key issue for the public was, and still is, what sort of explanation of behaviour will lead to the best outcome for all concerned. 

The nature vs nurture debate is said to be declared officially ‘redundant’ by social scientists, some even labelled it “outdated, naive and unhelpful” (Craddock, 2001). This is contested by Nature theorists who say that the nature-nurture argument provides a method to understand behavior in a complex, yet not fully understood way. They also employ the terminology of such readings in research papers to assess their respective influences on, for example, temperament and personality, childhood obesity, and so on. 

Some may believe that we start life as a blank slate and gain experiences which help grow our personalities throughout or lives. This idea is called the ‘Tabula Rasa’. However, others argue that this is just an abstract concept, since even whilst in the womb, we are influenced by experiences affecting our personality growth. 

One argument put forward that individuals act the way they do because they are members of the animal kingdom and thereby act in accordance with their animal impulses. As a result, their biology shapes their conduct. This has been linked to mental health disorders like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. These problems can then lead to a cascade of mental health problems like depression and anxiety. 

Minnesota Twin Study 

The twentieth century saw a trend away from ideology and toward research-based arguments. Bouchard (2001), carried out a study named the ‘Minnesota centre of twin adoption’. In this study, two twin infants are separated at birth. Later in life they were reunited, following which a series of studies took place. The motive of the study was to further justify the nature vs nature debate, with the results of the study concluding that both nature and nurture are as important as one another. When observing the twins it was reported that there were various similarities between them, such as voice and interests in topics, which can be accounted for by the nature component, yet several differences in personality were also recorded. Curiously, “biosocial criminologists have found that approximately 50 per cent of the variance in antisocial phenotypes can be attributed to genetic influences, followed by unique environmental influences” (Beaver, 20; Ferguson, 2010; Moffitt, 2005). 

The Intelligence Argument 

Intelligence and its link to criminality is another biological argument used to support the nature theory. Observers of the twin research discovered that although each twin was raised separately, their IQs were identical. This suggests that intelligence may be passed down through the generations. According to nature theory, intelligence is genetically determined, and those who believe IQ is determined by inheritance believe that low IQ is linked to criminality. Such theories state that the typical criminal is of ‘lower intelligence’, suggesting that these people are more likely to commit crimes. 

In contrast to the Naturists, according to the Nurturists criminality is caused by environmental influences rather than a lower IQ. This hypothesis considers intelligence to be cultural rather than genetically determined. “Low IQ is a result of cultural upbringing rather than mental capacity. As a result, IQ test results may only reflect the individual’s formal schooling rather than true intelligence. Low IQ can be caused by a child’s upbringing in an atmosphere that favors delinquent and criminal behavior” (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994, Magdol et al, 1998 and Ward and Tittle, 1994). 

Societal norms assist in distinguishing what is right and wrong, falling under the social contract theory. It is through the social contract theory that people unite and form a society. It provides a way to distinguish a good law from a bad law. Nurturists would believe that society forming such a community influences the environment around which people behave. You can interconnect this to sociological impacts as well. “Crime is influenced by a lower IQ together with poor school performance, job performance, adaptation and social integration.” (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Magdol et al, 1998 and Ward and Tittle, 1994). 

For example, according to Marxism, bourgeois families have the resources to educate their children through access to better education and living in an environment, where education is valued. Thus this increases their overall ‘environmental intelligence’ in the sense that their neighborhood is filled with bourgeoisie’s. 

This is in contrast to the proletariat, who would be restricted in terms of resources and educational opportunities, limiting one’s intelligence growth and exposing them to an environment with low overall ‘environmental intelligence,’ in the sense of their neighborhood being populated by bourgeoisie’s. This can be demonstrated using the ‘broken window idea.’ 

Some may argue that societal norms however, evolve over time depending on a state’s political, religious, economical and societal views. This results sometimes in anomic periods, as what may seem like a ‘normal behaviour’ in one place, may be ‘deviant behaviour’ in another place, creating confusion for oneself. An example of this ‘naturists’ would argue, is the role of temperament. Many of the early psychological positivists posited that criminal behavior is a product of the interaction between low intelligence and a particular kind of temperament. 


Researchers who have studied biological influences have identified temperament as being a genetic trait, evidence of this being found in the twin studies. Therefore temperamental differences are largely a function of different genetic predispositions related to the nervous system functioning, which governs physiological arousal patterns, however, temperament is also influenced by environmental stimuli. 

Culture and temperature of the environment have a part to play in hyperactivity. For example, the Maltese way is to react with anger to show strength which can relate to violence. Also being a Southern Mediterranean location, the mannerism of the community is very ‘passionate’ and people will speak with their hands to show interest in a topic. This would contrast to a Northern European country, in which mannerism is very ‘restricted’ and one must have a strong relationship with a person in order to behave the way in which it is considered a ‘social norm’ in a Southern Mediterranean state. 

Familial Upbringing 

Another factor which can contribute to one’s path of delinquency, is familial upbringings, explored in Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. 

In the 50’s there was a very clinical approach to giving birth, in which they would take the babies away from the mothers and take them to another room. Bowlby realised the importance of children experiencing a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with the mother, that both mother and child enjoy. This is why they encourage skin to skin contact after birth as soon as possible. 

According to studies, children who are unable to build a connection to a warm, caring, and secure care giver are more prone to engage in criminal behavior. Breaking the maternal bond during the early years might have major consequences for the kid, according to the “maternal deprivation theory” (1951). Intellectual, social, and environmental progress are only a few examples. These could be long-term and irreversible. The relationship between parents and their children may have an impact on the likelihood of future criminal behaviour. 

According to Gottfredson and Hirishi (1990), ‘raising children in unstructured situations causes them to lose control of their behavior, making them more likely to commit crimes.’ In practice, the supervision of children’s behaviors has a key role in creating future behavior, and as a result, factors such as the parents’ capacity to handle confrontation or the application of reinforcement may be relevant in shaping prosocial behavior.

To conclude, the road to delinquency begins with a sense of belonging, a brainwashing that you belong somewhere in society. Young people are the most at risk because they interact with a variety of people and build relationships with a variety of communities. As a result, they feel the need to be accepted, even in criminally influenced communities. 

Additionally, it is critical to keep oneself active and occupied with activities that allow us to socialise more and divert our attention away from illegal activity. Sports, musicals, and a variety of other activities are examples. The church had a significant influence in the early years, and it leads one to feel that they are part of a community and a sense of belonging. 

When it comes to parenting; however, the quality of the time spent with your children is more important than the quantity of time spent. Both the ‘nature’ of one’s self and the ‘nurture’ of one’s upbringing appear to contribute to criminality, suggesting that neither is fully accountable for one’s criminal acts. 

The issue in criminology has evolved into a contemporary debate over nurture vs. biosocial factors. Both environmental and genetic influences are emphasized in the biosocial. 

I will finish this Article piece with a quote I read which I believe can summarise this debate in simple terms, to an extent per say: “Nature is the length of a rectangle. Nurture is the width. There can be no rectangle without both.” 

Written by Leo Ghorishi


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