Nature and Nurture: Spoiler Alert, Both Matter in Development

There is an ongoing, fundamental debate in psychology that has to do with the topic of nature and nurture on development. 

This debate pertains to factors of development. Nature are the biological factors like DNA, body chemistry, and human biology. Nurture on the other hand are all the external, or environmental factors influencing development. This includes living situation, culture, relationships, language, media, social influences, and any other non-biological factors on development. Certain variables like diet and exercise have both nature and nurture influences.

Linus on top of Mt. Baldy, Breckenridge, Co.

While often discussed in terms of humans you can see nature and nurture impact in animals as well. Like dogs for example, Linus, my dog, was abused as a puppy before my wife and I adopted her. The trauma from that has always haunted her as she is terrified of people. Once she warms up to you she is the sweetest thing in the world! But her serious trust issues from puppyhood often influence her responses and behaviors.


Nature related traits like DNA and body chemistry are fairly set in stone. It is not easy to change your DNA. Without the aid of some major medications or surgeries your body chemistry is not going to change drastically. With modern medicine some of these once fixed traits are now able to be manipulated and changed slightly.

However, the nurture elements of a person are much more fluid and able to change, nature is relatively set in stone. Regardless of the area of development, nature has some impact. In some areas of development nature might dictate close to 100%, in other areas it may have little impact on the development. Your biological parents DNA (and other biological family members) are a huge factor on DNA.


The factors that influence nurture are much broader than the nature elements. Basically any outside influence on a person can be considered a nurture influence. Here are some examples of nurture based elements on development:

  • Parental styles: Authoritarian, permissive, authoritative, parental styles all impact the view of authority and relationships. What were expectations like of you in the house.
  • Home environment: Did you have a positive, safe, supportive home life, or were you not encouraged and loved
  • Society: The influences from the human society as a whole, and smaller local societies will play a role in how you view humans and yourself.
  • Trauma: Experiencing a traumatic event in your life (death of a parent at a young age, being assaulted, neglect, etc.) impacts the way you develop in a variety of fashions.
  • Motivation: Motivation can take a person out of a horrific situation into great success, or a lack of motivation can take a person from a great situation and take everything from them.
  • Religion: The values, morals, and expectations that religions place on people will have a huge influence on the development of the individual. Some people form their own beliefs and values, others cling to the religion that their parents introduced.
  • Punishment and Reinforcement: If a person is punished for certain behaviors, like talking too much, they are less likely to be talkative, and this can impact the way that people interact with people going forward.
  • Siblings: Having siblings can effect the way a person behaves and their goals in life. I wanted to be just like my older sister, this had a positive influence on me as my sister is a great person.
  • Cultural Norms: Every culture, no matter how big or small the culture may be, has some ramifications on a person. These can be positive or negative and vary drastically between cultures.
  • Media: The media, in all forms, can be credited for being a major influence on the development of people. The media often sets unrealistic expectations of people, which then  other people will attempt to obtain, possible or not. Social Media has become an even bigger factor on younger generations. Advertising and marketing are designed to influence and change your opinions and behaviors.
  • Relationships: The people we interact with are probably the biggest influence on our development. This includes family, friends, colleagues, strangers, romantic partners, authority figures, and anyone else that we may encounter. These can be both positive and negative, but regardless the influence of our relationships is monumental.
  • Other Factors: Just because something doesn’t fit into one of these boxes, doesn’t mean it won’t have influence on the development of a person. Any factor that is important to a person is significant to their development.

What is the Debate of Nature vs. Nurture?

Generally when you hear of the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate it implies that nature OR nurture is the cause. In reality, this is not really a debate about an influence on development being one or the other, but rather a debate about Nature AND Nurture. In most instances the argument comes down to how much influence is nature and how much is nurture, not either or. Both nature and nurture play a role in development in all areas of life, the division of responsibility varies for everyone significantly.

How much of Development is Nature and How much is Nurture?

This question is asked frequently in development and the answer is simple: No one really knows exactly. Depending on what you are analyzing the percentage that is nature and the percentage that is nurture will vary greatly. Also, the variability of nature and nurture influence between people will also have significant difference. It is very difficult to isolate the two and truly understand the impact that each has individually.

Genetic Predisposition

The term genetic predisposition is a fancy way of saying the likelihood of developing a specific trait. For example, take the following two people:

  • Jenny comes from a family where her mother, sister, cousin, both grandmothers, and two aunts have had breast cancer. All the women in her family have dealt with this horrific disease, and sadly most have lost their lives to it.
  • Heather has just the opposite family situation that Jenny does. There is absolutely no history breast cancer in her immediate or extended family.

You don’t need to be an expert on breast cancer to make a conclusion that Jenny is at a significantly higher risk of developing breast cancer than Heather. So, does this mean that Jenny will 100% get breast cancer and Heather has a 0% chance of developing breast cancer? Of course not. However, you could say that Jenny has a higher genetic predisposition than Heather for breast cancer. Yet, both, one or neither of these women could develop breast cancer.

Genetic predispositions exist for all diseases, mental health disorders, physical traits, and even some more personality based traits as well. It is merely a likelihood of developing some trait. The genetic predisposition is more nature based, but the nurture (behavioral, decisions, lifestyle, etc.) components of development often play a huge role in if it the trait manifests itself.

Are some traits more nature and some more nurture?

Absolutely, some traits seem to be more tied to one than the other. However, it is important to remember that development as a whole is a multi-faceted construct that has countless factor that will impact overall development. There is little disagreement across the board as people are purely nature theorists, and other folks are more nurture theorists. The truth about all traits is it is likely a combination of the two factors.

Here is a list of some traits that are often analyzed in the Nature and Nurture debate.

  • Physical Traits: A trait like height is almost entirely a nature trait, however, if you were an evil person who made some live in a tiny box that would stunt their growth. Weight is another trait that has a nature basis to it, bit behavioral choices also have a huge impact. Things like eye and hair color are nature based.
  • Physical Health: With a large genetic element to this, the predispositions that we are born with have a substantial impact on our overall physical health. The choices we make also have a big influence. If you are pre-disposed to getting lung cancer, and you choose to smoke cigarettes, you are drastically increasing the chances of developing lung cancer. If you have no history of lung cancer in your family but you smoke, you are increasing the risk of that as well. Dispositions are impacted greatly by the choices we make in our lives.
  • Mental Health Disorders: Depending on the specific disorder, the likelihood of development will vary from nature to nurture. For example, a disorder like Schizophrenia has a very high genetic component to it and is likely the biggest factor that dictates the development of Schizophrenia. However, there are situational elements that matter as well. Doing too many drugs, head injuries, and serious trauma exposure can all lead to Schizophrenia. Other disorders, like eating disorders probably would be more influenced by nurture factors like the media, family relationships, and perceptions, yet still have a genetic element to them as well.
  • Personality: This is a tricky one that is going to have both factors of nature and nurture. Many people are just like their parents. So does this mean that is absolutely genetic? Not so fast. You have to remember many people are raised in the same house with their parents. So the personality traits could be genetic AND environmental. I am similar to both my father and mother, I also look up to them as people and try to take from them the positive traits that they have.
  • Intelligence: The research on this one is all over the place. I have met smart parents with stupid children, and stupid parents with brilliant children! Genetics likely play a factor but environment also plays a huge role. My parents would read books to me, help with homework, and encourage me to learn. This was such a giant influence on the way that I view learning and has impacted my intelligence greatly. As a student, Ben in my class, pointed out, the ability to learn is more nature, but what you learn is nurture. Well put.
  • Gender: Gender is a term that is used for the masculinity and femininity of a person, whereas sex is a biological term that relates to having a penis or vagina. Gender is more socially based. For many years, we thought of gender and sex as being the same, males are masculine, females are feminine. As we have grown as a society, we now know that gender lies on a spectrum. There is a chemical and biological component to this as testosterone and estrogen levels have an influence on traditional masculine and feminine traits. However, society, expectations, learned behaviors, motivations, and individuality are also incredibly important.
  • Sexuality: In this day and age most people understand and embrace that sexuality has a genetic component to it. Sexuality once believed to be a “choice” has now been connected to strong genetic components. Ignoring environmental and life factors though is a bit short sided.


Natural factors as well as environmental factors have an influence on development. The percentage of each influence will vary based on the trait as well as the individual.

To cite this article in APA:

In text: (Mikita, 2017)

Mikita, D. (2017). Nature and nurture: Spoiler alert, both Matter in development. Retrieved from Free Psychology Help: