What can the nature & nurture debate tell us about the development of intelligence?

The nature & nurture debate gives us many valuable indications on the development of intelligence.  First of all the nature v nurture debate tells us that there is no one single view on the development of intelligence.In the debate it is evident that different scientists believe that there are different factors responsible for the development of intelligence.

Some scientists believe that the development of intelligence depends on our environment most importantly the relationship with parents. This is the view held by scientists such as Oliver James and other followers of traditional psychology who argue that family influences are critical to the development of intelligence from a very young age.

Other scientists believe that genetic factors are responsible and that environment such as parenting has little or no effect on how a child’s intelligence evolves over time. This is the view held by Steven Pinker and other followers of evolutionary psychology who believe that nothing matters more than our genes.

The nature v nurture debate tells us about supporting argument for each of these two viewpoints. As we can see, just like every other domain in psychology, there are different opinions about causes and factors that have an effect on development of intelligence. Although the debate argues that it is either genetics or environmental factors like parenting that is responsible for the development of intelligence, some scientists believe that it can be a combination of both including other factors that can affect development of intelligence in a person.

In order to understand the topic further it is important to understand the definition of intelligence. Intelligence it is the process of simply being in touch with reality. It’s accepting things, regardless of what you wanted. It’s becoming still and letting your true nature shine. It’s observing your emotions and taking responsibility for them.

Through traditional psychologists we find that children’s aggressive behaviour is picked up from violent parents. Traditional psychologists believe that the family is the root of all troubles. According to them genes have a very limited role in intelligence or on other psychological aspects such as the birth of criminal or violent behaviour.

The traditional psychologists tell us that learning from parents is key not only to intelligence but many other personality characteristics. In the debate this view is supported by the fact that several major European studies show that children born to violent parents but raised in peaceable households are no more likely to have violent, criminal records than those born to non-violent parents. However, those raised in homes run by violent adoptive parents tend to be criminally aggressive.

A similar view to traditional psychologists is also held by the United Nations, which claim that ‘violence is part of an historical process and is not natural or born of biological determinism’. The view of the traditional psychologists is further supported by studies by European scientists who have found virtually no genetic components to violent behaviour are open.

On the other hand evolutionary psychologists do not believe in environment factors to affect intelligence or personality characteristics as pointed above. Evolutionary psychologists believe that studies of human evolution show that parents have little impact on their children’s development of intelligence and overall behaviour. Only their genes, and a person’s interaction with peers and friends, matter in the shaping of violent personalities. Road rage and murder are in our DNA. According to Pinker, violence ‘is part of our design and in our genes.

The nature v nature debate also gives us a deep insight into the development of intelligence from the point of view of evolutionary scientists and provides us with supporting evidence to prove that genes are the most important factor. In support of the evolutionary theory, Pinker says violent roots are deep and innate. In the nature v nurture debate both scientists use a wide range of interesting evidence, from real world events to controlled studies, to support their argument. Pinker for example quotes Winston Churchill’s maxim who said that ‘long before history, murderous strife was universal and unending.

Evolutionary scientists often dismiss of those who claim violent tendencies are learnt from others. According to them the aggression found in children of violent parents is mainly due to inheritance of violent genes rather than learnt from parents during their growth. Evolutionary scientists also dismiss the claims of agencies such as the United Nations that ‘violence is part of an historical process and is not natural or born of biological determinism’. According to Evolutionary scientists like Pinker, violence ‘is part of our design and not learnt from historical process.

The nature v nurture debate also highlights the contradictions in the findings and results of different researches and studies that have been carried out worldwide by credible organisations. For example, Thomas Bouchard, whose twin studies, carried out at the University of Minnesota, are used as a key source by Pinker. By studying identical twins reared in separate adoptive families, Bouchard claims to have found critical inherited components to virtually all aspects of human personality. By contrast, studies by European scientists have found virtually no genetic component to violent behaviour.

The debate also shows us that sometimes the results of the same study are used by believers of traditional as well as believers of evolutionary scientists to prove their own view point. For example the traditional scientists refute the claims made by the twin studies by the University of Minnesota by stating that whenever other scientists ask to check their results, they refuse. In support of the evolutionary theory and to contradict the finding of the evolutionary study James also states that if twin and adoption studies show little or no heritability for violence then the reason why violence runs in families must be environmental. He further states that this evidence shows that violence breeds violence, not genes.

The nature v nature debate also tell us about the extreme level of differences that exist between different scientists when it comes to proving factors responsible for the development of intelligence and other personality traits. Evolutionary scientist John goes on to state that the evolutionary theory is not only misleading but also dangerous for society to believe in. Parents who think they have little effect on how their children turn out are substantially more likely to abuse or neglect them.

Towards the end however one common factor between the two theories is pointed out briefly when Harris denies that she and Pinker were arguing that parents had no role in influencing their children. ‘Of course they do. Those who come from comfortable, happy homes always do well.’ However according to Harris children are still far more likely to acquire habits and personality traits from their peers and not from parents. Parents are important, but not all-powerful in influencing children.

All in all the nature v nurture debate tells us about the two different viewpoints of the traditional and evolutionary scientists with respect to development of intelligence and other personality traits. Although the debate tells shows evidence and findings in support of either of the theories, it fails to show which is correct over the other. The debate leaves still leaves many questions un-answered and does not clearly support one theory over the other. In reality it is possible that some of both can actually be true in development of intelligence and other personality traits.
However in the debate both scientists fail to agree that research and findings could point to both.


Available: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,795048,00.html
Available: http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/23/
Available: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,6903,796561,00.html
Jean Piaget, (August 9, 1896 – September 16, 1980) was a Swiss philosopher, natural scientist and developmental psychologist).
O. James’. The Guardian’s revive.
Robin McKie. Vanessa Thorpe. “The nature v nurture debate”,
S. Pinker. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature,
S. Pinker’s. Available: http://www.mit.edu/~pinker/
S. Pinker’s. Guardian’s review,
Steven Pinker. (2002). A debate on “The Blank Slate”, “The Modern Denial of Human Nature” Allen Lane, 434pp.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.Available:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/inteligence.



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