Nature, Nurture and Human Development

By Lipton, Bruce H. PhD | Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Nature, Nurture and Human Development


Lipton, Bruce H. PhD, Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health


ABSTRACT: The role of nature-nurture must be reconsidered in light of the Human Genome Project's surprising results. Conventional biology emphasizes that human expression is controlled by genes, and is under the influence of nature. Since 95% of the population possess "fit" genes, dysfunctions in this population are attributable to environmental influences (nurture). Nurture experiences, initiated in utero, provide for "learned perceptions." Along with genetic instincts, learned perceptions constitute the life-shaping subconscious mind. The conscious mind, which functions around age six, operates independently of the subconscious. Conscious mind can observe and criticize behavioral tapes, yet cannot "force" a change in subconscious mind.

One of the perennial controversies that tends to evoke rancor among biomedical scientists concerns the role of nature versus nurture in the unfoldment of life (Lipton, 1998a). Those polarized on the side of nature invoke the concept of genetic determinism as the mechanism responsible for "controlling" the expression of an organism's physical and behavioral traits. Genetic determinism refers to an internal control mechanism resembling a genetically-coded "computer" program. At conception, it is believed that the differential activation of selected maternal and paternal genes collectively "download" an individual's physiologic and behavioral character, in other words, their biological destiny.

In contrast, those endorsing "control" by nurture argue that the environment is instrumental in "controlling" biological expression. Rather than attributing biological fate to gene control, nurturists contend that environmental experiences provide an essential role in shaping the character of an individual's life. The polarity between these philosophies simply reflects the fact that those endorsing nature believe in an internal control mechanism (genes) while those supporting nurture mechanisms ascribe to an external control (environment).

The resolution of the nature and nurture controversy is profoundly important in regard to defining the role of parenting in human development. If those endorsing nature as the source of "control" are correct, the fundamental character and attributes of a child are genetically predetermined at conception. Genes, presumed to be self-actualizing, would control organismal structure and function. Since development would be programmed and executed by the internalized genes, the basic role of the parent would be to provide nutrition and protection for their growing fetus or child.

In such a model, developmental characters that deviate from the norm imply that the individual expresses defective genes. The belief that nature "controls" biology fosters the notion of victimization and irresponsibility in the unfoldment of one's life. "Don't blame me for this condition, I got it in my genes. Since I can't control my genes, I am not responsible for the consequences." Modern medical science perceives of a dysfunctional individual as one possessing a defective "mechanism." Dysfunctional "mechanisms" are currently treated with drugs, though pharmaceutical companies are already touting a future in which genetic engineering will permanently eliminate all deviant or undesirable characters and behaviors. Consequently, we relinquish personal control over our lives to the "magic bullets" proffered by pharmaceutical companies.

The alternative perspective, supported by a large number of lay people and a growing contingency of scientists, expands upon the role of parents in human development. Those endorsing nurture as life's "control" mechanism contend that parents have a fundamental impact on the developmental expression of their offspring. In a nurture-controlled system, gene activity would be dynamically linked to an ever changing environment. Some environments enhance the potential of the child, while other environments may induce dysfunction and disease. …

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