The Nature-Nurture Controversy Revisited: Implications for Understanding Behavioral Disorders
In order to engage the audience in a discussion about the complex influences on human development, I’d like to begin with a discussion of how the very concept of childhood evolved in the 16th century. Once this concept of childhood had been created, philosophers of the 17th and 18 centuries began to “reason" about these special beings. Such philosophizing actually established the basic duality of nature vs. nurture that carried over into the more scientific empirical approach of 20th century psychology. I will then offer a brief history of the actual study of childhood throughout the 20th century focusing specifically on the questions that were being asked about whether our development is influenced by our heredity, or whether the cause lies in the environment we grow up in, or by the interaction of nature with nurture. The final piece that we’ll consider, which I will also divide into 3 sections, is how this information about the influence of nature and of nurture informs us- or should inform us- as parents, teachers, mental health providers, researchers, etc., in our everyday interactions with children. In discussing the implications of nature and nurture for the development of the human brain, we will touch upon intellectual development, language development, and even personality development or temperament in childhood. We will focus on special challenges, for example, children with impulse disorders such as attention deficit disorder or children with difficult temperaments and how nurturing the nature of the child may lead to optimal development.
Keywords: Nature-Nurture Controversy, Genetics, Brain Development, Temperament, Behavioral Disorders
Dr. Judith Newman
Associate Professor, Human Development and Family Studies