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Over the past decades, the controversy over what determines who we are has always been a subject worthy of scorching debate in psychology, sociology, political philosophy and for people in everyday life. Is a person a creation of his genes or an artifact of his nurture, to be more precise, the society he dwells in, his social milieu and his education? Over the years, psychologists have been trying to develop different theories about human beings to explain the intrinsic attributes that define a person, such as how one feels, thinks and behaves. But these theories have been unidirectional in nature towards the question in point. However, dynamic understanding of genetics has led psychologists to approach the controversy by taking a middle ground on the argument. They now propose that nature and nurture are complementary and work together to shape a person's behavior. The conclusion is not a mere compromise but an outcome of vigorous revision of every element in the equation; that is, genetics and environment and their effects on shaping one's development and behavior. Nature bestows us with inherent characteristics while nurture shapes these genetic abilities through the process of socialization.  In fact, the more we comprehend about behavior and development, the more understandable it becomes that nature and nurture only influence rather than separately determine the makeup of a human being.

Over the years, the hunt for the behavioral gene has provided the foundation for a constant debate. The role of genetics in a person's character has always been accepted in psychological studies while on the other hand, advocates of nurture argue that the person is a product of his environment, not his genes. Psychologists, who are advocates of nature, often argue that an adult's disposition is principally determined by the set of genes they carry. Richard Dawkins, a renowned biologist and psychologist, in his book "The Selfish Gene" states; "Our genes made us" (Dawkins). In his book, he argues that a human being is entirely defined by his genes and the rationale of this life is to become a circulation means for the genes and ensure their proliferation. Studies show that these genes not only affect our outlook but also play a significant role in our behavior and attitude. Through latest hereditary research and medical study on identical twins and adopted children, scientists found out that many human qualities previously taken for granted as a consequence of childhood upbringing and experiences were rooted in genetic matrix but that specific characteristics were brought into effect through certain circumstances (McInerney). On the other hand, research also showed that most of the characteristics were a direct consequence of the environment (Dubos). When studying genetics and effects of environment on behavior, twins become significantly important because they carry identical copies of genes and one can easily compare the similarities and differences between them when raised under different environment. A detailed study on twin brothers illustrates this assertion perfectly as this study showed that they both kept their lives neat even though they were separated at birth and raised in different countries by their respective adoptive parents. On further investigation, they both attributed their neat habit to their mothers’ attitude even though one’s mother was a neat freak while the other was a total slob. In this example, we see an innate inclination of the twins towards neatness based on genetics. Conversely, they were different in many aspects of life such as temper, eloquence and physique etc, which was due to the different environments they were raised in (Term).This study shows that nature and nurture should be taken as a combined influence in a person's character rather than as separate determinants.

                        Science itself has disproven the theory that man is a product of his genes, not his environment. Research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the United States of America proves that the probability of a person having certain behavioral traits or diseases is based on both hereditary and environmental factors. This is explained by the theory of gene environment interaction (Gene). Diseases such as diabetes which were thought to be completely genetically transferred are now believed to be products of gene environment interaction. This theory claims that a person who has a certain gene present in his system and who is exposed to a given environmental factor will be the victim of a disease whereas another person who has a similar gene but has had no interaction with the specific environmental factor will be safe from the disease. Environmental variances such as behavioral, infectious and nutritious factors, lifestyle choices, diet and exercise are extremely significant in gene environment interaction. These factors, in turn, are influenced by the way in which a person is nurtured (Gene). Many genes do not become visible in the absence of particular environmental factors. Hence, it is evident that it is a complex interaction of both factors that influences the disposition of a human being.
                                   A key element of the nature versus nurture debate is how intelligence is determined. Can intelligence be attributed to the genetic code or is the intelligence of an individual entirely dependent upon his nurturing? The determinants of intelligence can be explored well through the cases of feral children, i.e. children brought up by animals or children who have been deprived of contact with humans.  In 1800, a seven year old boy named Victor was discovered abandoned in a forest in Southern France. Victor demonstrated animalistic traits, could not communicate, and would tear off all clothes he was given. He was then studied by Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard. Itard discovered that even though after training, Victor could not achieve a normal degree of intelligence; he nonetheless displayed emotional and intellectual development (Nature). Victor’s example shows that the ability to reach a particular degree of intelligence is genetically present in all individuals, but the surroundings of a person are what will determine whether his intelligence is allowed to develop or is restricted. Nature and nurture, thus, work synergistically to produce intelligence, as well as to mold individuals into who they are.

                               In addition, the interplay between genetics and the environment can be considered from a philosophical point of view. Do humans inherit the capacity to shape the objective information their senses perceive or do they learn this purely from their surroundings? The renowned philosophers Hume and Locke believed that human beings gather their knowledge of the world entirely through the experiences of their senses. This information is then molded into a more complex form by the use of rationale. Locke argued that humans have an intrinsic ability of observation, but the ideas that influenced their behavior were constructed from their experiences. Our views regarding nature are experiences of the mind (Csongradi). On the other hand, philosophers like Berkeley feel that Locke’s reasoning implies that knowledge is merely a mental concept which might not reflect reality. Therefore, it is more likely that human behavior and knowledge is genetically constructed. Immanuel Kant reconciled the two views by suggesting that while the knowledge we have is derived from what our senses experience, we have an inborn ability to classify and learn from this information (Csongradi). Thus, the more suitable description when discussing heredity and environment in reference to determining a person’s behavior is not “either/or”, but “and”.
                                   Furthermore, many people argue that gender roles are genetically determined while others say that these roles are completely a social construct.  Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, renowned anthropologists, argue that allotment of labor between genders is universal because of the dissimilar nature of bonding for males and females. "Nature", they argue," intended mother and child to be together" because she is a sentimental sanctuary and the only source of food for the child; thus, women have been prescribed various behaviors by different cultures that underline nurturance and sentimental union. While on the other hand, the bond between men is forged through the inevitability of "aggressive collaboration" in hunting; men must collaborate with their tribesmen and yet contend for meager resources with men in other tribe. Such bonds predispose men toward the organization of modern corporations and government bureaucracy (Kimmel). However, recent research shows that there exist female dominant societies where men are considered inferior to women (Matriarchal). In reality, however, gender roles are the product of an interaction of both factors while some intrinsic features are hereditary, an individual's behavior is greatly influenced by the process of socialization as well.
                                       There is sufficient evidence that genes affect several behavioral qualities, but the same evidence provides ample data about the role that the environment plays in molding a person’s personality. So, are our actions and abilities inherited or are these inculcated into us by the way we perceive our experiences? As shown, there is neither a direct causal relationship between a person’s genetic makeup and his behavior, nor between environment and personality. The likelihood of having certain tendencies may be increased by possessing a certain gene, but it is not the only driving factor. A person may be programmed to act a certain way, but he will still be able to decide who he will be and his socialization will go a long way in shaping his decision. Man is not a slave to any one of the two; both genetics and environment shape his life, however he is not shaped by one single entity. Man, therefore, is not a product of nature or nurture, rather, his life and behavior is influenced by a complicated interplay of both.

Written By: Hamza Orakzai (Bsc Student LUMS)

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