Nature vs Nurture

...Longitudinal studies tracing the course of development in individuals reveal that nature and nurture are not static, fixed components, but are interactive and highly variable over time. At any point in life, an individual's intellect and emotional development is the product of the continuing interaction of his or her experiences and innate capabilities...

Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology

It seems extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact contributions of nature and nurture, as both seem to interact with each other in extremely complex ways. low levels of innate ability the influence of environment is far less than it is at high levels...

Morton Hunt, The Story of Psychology

Is this true?

...The relationship between a parent and a child, like any other relationship between two individuals, is a two-way street - an ongoing transaction in which each party plays a role. When two people interact, what each one says or does is, in part, a reaction to what the other has just said or done, and to what was said or done in the past...

Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption

A family is a system in which all the parts interact. Each part impacts all the other parts of the system. A good-looking child with a pleasant disposition may simply be more fun to be around (and generate more feelings of peace and happiness, which could have beneficial results for a marriage) than a shy or nervous child who is not so good-looking. Some children may be more 'lovable' than others, and therefore may receive more love. Children who resemble their parents might also receive favoritism as they appeal perhaps to a narcissistic wish to see a continuation of oneself, or because certain genes have a better chance of survival when their combinations result in certain phenotypic effects.

I think it's possible that my physical features represented to my parents the very things they liked least in each other and in themselves. My personality developed as a compensation for those physical features. But it is also possible that my parents' reactions were not different to those I met in the world outside the home.

...Overall, fathers rough and tumble more with their children; they tease them more; they play harder and tend to emphasize physical challenge more. They tend to comfort less than the mother, they are less prone to try to cushion a child against the world...Fathers push the child, and even if the push it too hard, that's not catastrophic...

Deborah Blum, Sex on the Brain - The Biological Differences Between Men and Women

What happens if the mother isn't there to maintain a kind of balance?

Children can make their parents pretty miserable too...

Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption

It seems like it would suck pretty badly to end up with sprogs who just can't appreciate one's good intentions. All prospective parents should perhaps think about this possibility before reproducing. It might also be a good idea to try to reduce the amount of stigma that exists in society regarding the choice not to reproduce. It is still seen as abnormal, the non-optimal choice, usually the result of either inability to have children, lack of nurturing instinct (innate humanness), or selfishness.

People who choose not to reproduce can't be made miserable by their children, whereas (as far as I know) no child has a choice about whether to be born or not, or about who its parents will be. The genes you get are the genes you get, and you would not get them if your parents did not reproduce.

That said, genes do not cause behaviour and no one gene is responsible for a psychological trait. It is complicated, and many genes may cooperate to produce certain characteristics. Any one gene may affect many different psychological aspects. Different parenting styles may have different effects on the different combinations of genes that make up different individuals.

...In general, postnatal disorder tends to be more common among women who did not plan their pregnancy, do not have a supportive partner and had recently experienced some drastic life change such as loss of employment or the death of someone close. These are contributing factors; the cause itself remains unknown, though hormonal changes as the mother's body returns to its normal state following birth may well be implicated...

Babies react by mirroring their mother's depression...

H Rudolph Schaffer, Introducing Child Psychology

If women do not receive 'nurturing' themselves, it may affect their ability to nurture when their babies are born.

I have been told that my mother experienced postnatal depression after I was born. My theory is perhaps incorrect, but goes something like:

My mother's parents disapproved of my father, but were Catholic and when she got pregnant she had to get married. She understood that they thought she had in a sense thrown her life away, but that the important thing was to now make the most of her duty.

When I was born, my father commented that I was the ugliest thing he had ever seen, and he couldn't believe that he and my mother had created it. This is partly his sense of humour (and partly related to his own insecurity, probably believing that he himself was the reason for my ugliness), but my guess is that my mother couldn't relate to his attitude or way of expressing himself, and felt emotionally abandoned by him as well as her family. My father's family probably remained at a distance, not becoming involved. She was probably also thinking that she had thrown her life away and gone to the devil. A pretty child might have lifted her spirits or made her think it was a good omen regarding her path in life from now on. Instead, my features became associated with lost hope and a wasted life. She understood and accepted her duty but could not love it. That I understood on some level that this was her experience might have greatly impacted my decisions in life: to abandon Catholicism, and to have an abortion immediately upon becoming pregnant at age 16.


...some aspects of behaviour may be vulnerable to long-term consequences, even when the mother's illness lasted only a few months... [especially for boys]

...mostly found in socio-emotional aspects of development rather than cognitive functions... can have long-term effects... these children are an at-risk group, in need of help long after the mother's own recovery...

H Rudolph Schaffer, Introducing Child Psychology

My mother's postnatal depression was only one link in a long chain of events that affected me. On its own, the contribution to my development may have been relatively minor, or compensations might have been made over time.

...Growing up is a process that we can usefully think of as a series of developmental tasks, which appear in a particular sequence at various ages and which children need to confront with the help of their caregivers...

H Rudolph Schaffer, Introducing Child Psychology

At the age of 16, I experienced a series of traumatic life events. During that summer, I also had my first full-time job, as my father's receptionist/secretary at a new company which he was responsible for starting up. It is possible that I was not able to master the task of getting and keeping a job because my first job brings back extremely unpleasant associations, including feelings of powerlessness and extreme anxiety.

Systems theory

A strained marital relationship may affect the child, but:

...characteristics of the child, present from the beginning, may affect the kind of parenting provided and also the quality of the marital relationship - a situation most evident when the child is 'difficult' to rear by virtue of being handicapped...

Sibling rivalry may also impact the marriage itself, not just the relations between siblings.

Any change that occurs - birth, death, illness, unemployment, departure for college or work abroad - upsets the balance of the system and calls for new roles, relationships and internal patterns to be adopted. The system will attempt to regain balance, but if too many major changes occur, it may be next to impossible to restore equilibrium.

How children think of themselves depends on their cognitive development and their social experience, especially on the expectations and attitudes of other people.

Traits evident at birth, like shyness or aggressiveness, are more likely to carry over to adulthood when extreme. Otherwise, there seems to be some variance depending on experiences.

turning points: times in life where a choice must be made - continuance in school, getting a job, getting married to a particular person, etc, which affects the course of life

niche-picking: the process whereby individuals actively select those environments that fit in with their genetic predisposition

H Rudolph Schaffer, Introducing Child Psychology

In social settings, the others we encounter become part of the 'nurture' we receive, and in return, we are part of the 'nurture' that they receive. Others act as 'mirrors' for us, helping us to see where we fit in the overall scheme of things. Interactive, ongoing feedback helps us to appraise our efforts and abilities and to work out the activities and roles for which we are most suited.















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