Question Sam Social Sciences

Nature vs. nurture

What is the nature vs. nurture debate?

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The nature vs. nurture debate is one of the most common discussions within the field of psychology and surrounds the question of what, relatively speaking, influences our behaviour most – nature i.e. genetics and biological factors, or nurture i.e. environmental factors. The general consensus is that both nature and nurture are both equally influential in the development of human beings. However, proponents of the ‘nature’ argument (known as ‘nativists’) believe that human behaviour is already ‘wired in’ before birth. For example, Chomsky (1965) believed that language was learned via an innate, biological ‘language acquisition device’ which facilitates the development of language throughout childhood and beyond. On the other side of the coin, those who argue nurture to be more influential (known as ‘empiricists’) believe in the concept of ‘tabula rasa’ – the idea that the human mind starts off as a blank slate, which we then gradually add behavioural traits to throughout life. In essence, empiricists posit that our psychological characteristics and behaviours develop throughout infancy via learning (i.e. the ‘behavioural’ approach). For example, Bandura’s (1961) ‘Bobo doll’ experiment suggested that aggressive behaviour is learned via imitation of others’ behaviour.


Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-82.