Nature and Nurture: The Complex Interplay of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavior and Development

By Cynthia Garcia Coll; Elaine L. Bearer et al. | Go to book overview

3
Nature, Nurture,
and the Question of “How?”:
A Phenomenological Variant
of Ecological Systems Theory
Margaret Beale Spencer
Vinay Harpalani
University of Pennsylvania

Few areas of inquiry have captivated the entire realm of social sciences like the nature-nurture question. The study of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development has been one of the most significant investigations that social scientists have undertaken. Behavioral genetics is the field most associated with the nature-nurture question. Behavioral genetic research focuses, however, on determining how much variance within populations can be attributed genetic or environmental factors; it does not say much about how nature and nurture interact to produce observable outcomes. For developmental psychologists, “how?” rather than “how much?” is the pertinent question. In this chapter, we discuss the need for a process-oriented approach to the nature-nurture question and present Spencer's Phenomenological Variant of Ecological Systems Theory as a guiding conceptual framework to address the question of “how?” Our analysis attempts to explicate the nature-nurture question and integrate issues of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, cultural dissonance, and other contextual factors, as they interact with normative developmental and identity processes that are mediated by gene-environment interaction. We will also pose ideas for application of the PVEST framework in future research on the nature-nurture question.

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