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14 Examples of Nature vs Nurture

 , November 05, 2021
Nature vs nurture is the question of to what degree behavior is influenced by physical biology and to what degree it is related to individual experiences or intangible elements of the human experience such as free will. From a science perspective, this viewed as a question of the influence of genes over behavior versus environment such as society, culture and family. Nature vs nurture is also a foundational debate in philosophy that is tied to questions surrounding free will, thought and existence. The following are examples of scientific studies and philosophical perspectives concerning nature vs nurture.
A 2012 study of motivation and parental influence in secondary school students found a correlation of 89% (r value 0.89) between parental influence and achievement.1
A 2015 meta-analysis of 14 studies of parental influence on adolescent physical activity found that the studies returned heterogeneous results with only a weak overall correlation of 16% (r value 0.16). 2
A 2015 meta-analysis of 134 behavioral genetic studies found that the average effect size of these studies was .40. This analysis suggested that 40% of individual differences in personality were genetic and 60% were due to environmental influences.3
A 2019 meta-analysis of 101 publications encompassing 476 estimates of heritability of behavioral traits in animals produced an average of heritability for behavior of 0.235 suggesting that 23.5% of behavioral differences are genetic.4
A 2013 international meta-analysis of the heritability of educational attainment found that heritability varied significantly by nation.5
A 2019 meta-analysis of heritability that included 31 twin studies estimated the heritability of self-control to be a positive correlation of 0.6 (60%).6
A 2015 meta-analysis of the heritability of autism spectrum disorder based on 7 primary twin studies found that heritability estimates were substantial at 64–91%.7 The analysis also noted that shared environmental effects were also significant.8
A 2015 meta-analysis of 12 twin and 5 adoption studies placed the heritability of alcohol use disorders at approximately 50%.9
The behavior geneticist John C. Loehlin argued that genes and environment act jointly to create temperament and personality differences in his 1992 book Genes and Environment in Personality Development.10
Plato argued that humans have access to knowledge from birth he termed "the forms." In fact, he argued that all foundational knowledge is contained in the forms such that humans can theoretically access all fundamental knowledge with a process similar to intuition.11
Aristotle proposed that humans are born without knowledge such that knowledge is gained with experience.12
The philosopher John Locke proposed that we have no innate ideas such that our minds are blank slates that are shaped by experience alone.13
Philosopher William James argued that humans have more innate instincts than animals and that this is a basis for greater freedom of action.14
DNA is both inherited and environmentally responsive.15 As such, there is a complex interplay between nature and nurture.16


Of the studies of heritability reviewed, all point to correlations between genetics and behavior. Correlation does not equal causation. No study pointed to a theory or hypothesis that would model how genes create these complex behaviors.
Twin studies may be inherently flawed whereby many monozygotic twins may grow up in the same household, go to the same school and so forth. Adoption studies are often used to indicate a shared environment without shared genes. However, there may be something about the experience of being adopted that also affects behavior.
Behavioral studies are typically based on broad categorization of behavior such as extrovert or introvert that are in themselves problematic as they are overly generalized stereotypes.
Hard science is shifting towards systems models that go beyond simple 1:1 correlations to look at the hundreds of factors that go into processes. Biological and behavioral processes involve particularly complex systems. By comparison, the nature vs nurture debate is overly simplistic whereby people want a single explanation of the complexities of human behavior.
Generally speaking, modern research points to both predispositions such as genetics and environments such as family as influencing behavior. It is also clear that environment influences genes. As such, nature vs nurture may be a false dichotomy that is unhelpful and misleading. Many variables go into behavior.


The summaries above are greatly simplified. Please read the original studies and texts for a more precise overview (references below).


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1. Yao, Christopher A., and Ryan E. Rhodes. "Parental correlates in child and adolescent physical activity: a meta-analysis." International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 12.1 (2015): 1-38.
2. Atta, Malik Amer, and Asif Jamil. "Effects of motivation and parental influence on the educational attainments of students at secondary level." Academic Research International 2.3 (2012): 427.
3. Vukasović, Tena, and Denis Bratko. "Heritability of personality: A meta-analysis of behavior genetic studies." Psychological bulletin 141.4 (2015): 769.
4. Dochtermann, Ned A., et al. "The heritability of behavior: a meta-analysis." Journal of Heredity 110.4 (2019): 403-410.
5. Branigan, Amelia R., Kenneth J. McCallum, and Jeremy Freese. "Variation in the heritability of educational attainment: An international meta-analysis." Social forces 92.1 (2013): 109-140.
6. Willems, Y. E., et al. "The heritability of self-control: A meta-analysis." Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 100 (2019): 324-334.
7,8. Tick, Beata, et al. "Heritability of autism spectrum disorders: a meta‐analysis of twin studies." Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 57.5 (2016): 585-595.
9. Verhulst, Brad, Michael C. Neale, and Kenneth S. Kendler. "The heritability of alcohol use disorders: a meta-analysis of twin and adoption studies." Psychological medicine 45.5 (2015): 1061-1072.
10. Loehlin, John C. Genes and environment in personality development. Sage Publications, Inc, 1992.
11. Fine, Gail. "Plato on knowledge and forms: selected essays." (2003).
12. Wachs, Theodore D. The nature of nurture. Sage publications, 1992.
13. Bronstein, David. Aristotle on Knowledge and Learning: The Posterior Analytics. Oxford University Press, 2016.
14. James, William. "Instinct." (1892).
15. Robinson, Gene E. "Beyond nature and nurture." Science 304.5669 (2004): 397-399.
16. Coll, Cynthia Garcia, Elaine L. Bearer, and Richard M. Lerner, eds. Nature and nurture: The complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development. Psychology press, 2014.


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