There is an old debate that has been going on for ages. It’s been argued and studied repeatedly, with research still going to find out what the truth is.
The debate is basically about what is more influential in a person’s life; Nature or Nurture.
In other words, the term ‘nature’ refers to one’s genes while the term ‘nurture’ refers to the environment that the individual grew up in. Because of this, the debate is also referred to by it’s alternative term of ‘Genes vs. Environment’.
To make a long story short, it is basically a question of what is more influential when it comes to a person’s abilities, creativity, personality, behavior, criminality, intelligence, etc: Genes or the environment.
I guess that the debate will rage on for many decades to come, with everyone proposing their own theories.
However, I would like to share my side of the story and what I think is more influential.
This might not be what one would like to hear, but well, sometimes the truth hurts. Here is what I believe is the truth about ‘Nature vs. Nurture’.
The truth is that, while both genes and environment influence an individual in life, I’m inclined to say that genes win out. Environment simply doesn’t stand a chance. It might sound outrageous but that’s the truth, at least from what I have observed.
Maybe it’s not that genes ‘decide’ what all of your characteristics will be like. It might just be that they merely create ‘predispositions’ or ‘tendencies’ for certain kinds of behaviors, which under certain ENVIRONMENTAL conditions, get triggered and activated.
So how did I come to this conclusion?
The answer is that it took a long time to understand and figure out everything. The search for the truth certainly was an annoying one because I didn’t even know where to begin. In fact, even the topic itself was alien to me until I was somewhere in high school.
When I first began my search for the truth about this, I read both sides of the argument and it seemed like they both had valid points to make. For example, when it came to criminality:
- The ‘Environment’ side stated that criminality used to increase whenever there were periods of economic decline and widespread poverty, implying that the people were forced to indulge in criminal behavior in order to survive.
- The ‘Genes’ side on the other hand, stated that criminal parents would give birth to criminal children, with the children becoming criminals when they grew up, even if they were adopted by law-abiding parents and had no contact with their real parents.
Looking at these two sides of the argument and not knowing what was real, I simply chose a middle path of believing that both nature and nurture had an equal influence.
Beyond this, I didn’t know what to think, since I didn’t have much access to information. I didn’t have access to the internet for the most part until my 10th grade got over.
It was only sometime after my 10th grade that I realized the truth. The truth came to me not through scientific journals or research papers; on the contrary, it came from a rather unlikely source…
The reality was this…
I HAD ACCESS TO THE TRUTH MY WHOLE LIFE!
BUT I DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE IT!!
I was overlooking the fact the entire time.
I had the truth shoved in my face but I refused to acknowledge it. I didn’t even think of it as the truth. I used to dismiss it as something irrelevant even when it occasionally came into my mind.
Here’s the thing. Me and my brother grew up in the same environment. Yet we are completely unlike each other. Our personalities are downright opposite!
Considering that we both share the same parents, familial situation (which I have given a brief description about in my post on loneliness), relatives, school, teachers and what not…you would expect that we share similar behavioral traits, BUT WE DON’T!
WE ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!
Just to give you an idea of what I mean, here is a list of my brother’s behavioral traits (left) compared against my own (right) :
- Completely extroverted vs. Slightly / Moderately introverted
- Easily sociable vs. Moderately sociable
- Impatient vs. Very patient
- Short-temperament vs. Moderate / Long-temperament
- Reckless vs. Careful / Cautious
- Moderately disorganized vs. Very organized
- Goal-oriented vs. Easily distracted
- Focused in life vs. Wavering mindset
- Laid-back attitude vs. Cautious / Overly-cautious attitude
- Highly altruistic vs. Sometimes altruistic / Sometimes a jerk
- And so it goes…
Well, you get the idea. We both are completely different and it’s something that you can’t explain with the environment. It’s simply NOT possible.
By the way, it should be noted that the children’s behavior need not reflect the parent’s behavior. The behavior of the children can mirror that of grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. In general, the behavior of anyone in the immediate genetic circle of the parents can become the dominant traits of the child.
So anyway, how is it that two individuals, sharing the same genetic parents and growing up in the same environment and being so close in age difference (around 3+ years), have such completely different personalities?
The simple answer is GENES! GENES!! GENES!!!
NOT THE ENVIRONMENT!!!!
In addition, there is also a branch of genetic research called ‘Behavioral Genetics‘ which studies the influence of genes on behavior.
It is in fact behavioral genetics that enabled humans to domesticate animals. Humans selectively bred those animals with desirable traits and over a period of time, turned them into something completely different.
For example, there isn’t much genetic difference between dogs and wolves. They are genetically related to each other and can in fact, INTERBREED and produce fertile offspring. The difference lies in their behavior and temperament. The dogs you find today have been selectively bred to carry genetic traits that make them more docile, calm, friendly, tame and affectionate, when compared to wolves.
It is this process of selective breeding, using the principles of behavioral genetics, that enabled humans to create the domestic animals around you; dogs, cats, sheep, cows, horses, buffaloes, etc. The early humans never understood the concept as ‘behavioral genetics’, but they observed that there was a clear relationship and similarity between the behavior of the parent animals and that of their offspring.
To make a long story short, if behavioral genetics were a lie, THERE WOULD NOT BE A SINGLE DOMESTIC ANIMAL ANYWHERE ON EARTH!
And considering that biologically speaking, we are animals just like every other animal on earth, logic would tell you that THE SAME PRINCIPLES OF BEHAVIORAL GENETICS applies EQUALLY WELL to human beings too.
Idiots who still think that the environment is everything should try to tame wolves, wild cats, wild sheep, wild horses, wild buffaloes and so on, by raising them in captivity from when they are young. After all, the environment is everything, right?
Do note that the idiots MAY succeed with SOME animal specimens, but THAT would be because those animals ALREADY carry desirable behavioral traits to begin with. To put it differently, these are the SAME sort of specimens that would have been selected for domestication by our ancestors, thousands of years ago.
Before I conclude this post, let me tell you about a story that relates to this topic.
The story is called ‘The Scorpion and the Frog’.
In the story, a frog about to cross a river meets a scorpion.
The scorpion tells the frog that it wants to cross the river too and asks if it could hitch a ride on the frog’s back. The frog refuses, telling that it was afraid the scorpion would sting it. The scorpion rationalizes with the frog stating that doing so wouldn’t be in it’s best interest, since the death of the frog would also mean death for the scorpion.
Getting convinced, the frog agrees to let the scorpion ride on its back and begins to swim towards the other side. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog!
The frog, now on the verge of death, tells the scorpion that it had betrayed him and that because of his actions, they both were going to drown and asks why he did it.
The scorpion replies to the frog’s question by stating that it just couldn’t help itself since,
IT WAS IN IT’S NATURE!
And so, there you have it.
The answer to an age old question of ‘Genes Vs. Environment’, a.k.a ‘Nature Vs. Nurture’.
The answer to this question is that IT IS NATURE; it always was and always will be.
There is in fact, even a proverb from my language, Kannada, that talks about this…
“Huttguna sutru hogalla…”
The proverb in English would translate to something along the lines of:
“A trait one is born with, will not disappear even after one’s death and subsequent cremation.”
SO THAT’S THE TRUTH IN ALL IT’S GLORY.
IT IS GENES AND NOT THE ENVIRONMENT, WHICH ULTIMATELY DETERMINES HUMAN BEHAVIOR.
If the truth seems a little hard to stomach for you, rest assured that I have a small bit of an exception to add to my conclusion of the truth.
Perhaps, humans lie a bit higher on the biological totem pole compared to other animals. After all, considering that humans are the smartest creatures on earth, intelligence and self-awareness SHOULD have SOME effect on behavior, right?
I have discussed exactly that in the second part…