Concepts and Theories of Human Development

By Richard M. Lerner | Go to book overview

3
The Nature-Nurture Controversy: Implications of the Question, How?

A child is born, and may seem to have few distinguishable capabilities. Soon, however, rather well coordinated sensorimotor behaviors begin to be elaborated. Later, other, more complicated motor patterns emerge. Still later, the child's vocalizations turn to words.

A baby goose (a gosling), moments after it breaks through its shell, begins to walk after its mother. From then on, the goose will attach itself to other geese in all its social behaviors.

Rats that are deprived throughout their early development of stimulus cues for depth are individually placed on a platform that lies between an apparently deep drop-off and a shallow one. Almost all of the rats descend off the platform's shallow side.

Newborn human babies, just a few hours after their birth, suck on a non-nutritive nipple more when the sucking is followed by a recording of their mother's voice than when the sucking is followed by a recording of a female voice that is not their mother's.

What is the source of these diverse behaviors? In fact, what is the source of any behavioral development? Some psychologists have interpreted the emergence of behaviors such as those described above in a way that suggests that experience seems to play a minimal role, if any, and that innate, maturational, or hereditary factors seem to account for their appearance. Yet other psychologists claim just the opposite. Observing the same behaviors, they offer interpretations emphasizing environmental factors. Still other psychologists (myself included) attempt to interpret such behaviors in a way that takes into account both the contributions of intrinsic and experiential factors.

Where does the truth lie? Perhaps all positions have elements of truth in them, but the arguments about where the sources of behavior lie are by no means resolved. From our discussions in Chapters 1 and 2, it may be seen that the basic issue in developmental psychology is the nature-nurture controversy. Indeed, this controversy has been and remains very much an issue.

For example, as indicated in Chapter 1, some psychologists interested in the study of perceptual processes (the Gestalt school) claim that nativistic factors are most important in determining a person's perception, while others (e.g., Hebb 1949) take an empiricist point of view. In the area of personality, some (e.g., Sheldon 1940, 1942) stress what

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