Nature v Nurture

First Mother: ‘My child is bright, she was born bright. You could see it from the minute she was born’.

Second Mother: ‘You’re kidding yourself. No child is born bright, when you push them out in this world, they don’t know anything, they’ve got nothing in their brains, their blank; don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful, but they are blank. We have to teach them, so they come to know what is what’.

The question is which mother is right, or in fact are they both right? Do children come into the world with knowledge (born clever) or do they arrive in a state of blankness? This philosophical argument of whether a child is born intelligent or whether intelligence is acquired as the child interacts with the environment is known as the Nature versus Nurture debate. If we agree with the first mother that children are born bright/intelligent , then we are in agreement with the Nature side of the debate, meaning that we believe that biology rules. A child’s level of intelligence is therefore based on genetic inheritance. Frances Galton (philosopher/psychologist, Darwin’s cousin) argued that genius runs in families. If mum and dad are clever, then the argument is that clever parents will conceive clever babies. I can hear you shouting ‘not necessarily’.

Our second mother argues that children are not born clever. Children are perceived as being blank when born and dependant on carers/parents to nurture them and teach them about the world. This philosophical argument is known as the Nurture debate, and is supported by John Locke, who coined the term ‘tabula rasa’; meaning that when a child is born, he/she is like a blank slate, a blank canvass waiting to acquire knowledge. From a Nurture standpoint, intelligence develops as a consequence of nurturing. Children come into the world knowing nothing, but with good nurturing/teaching they acquire knowledge and learn to competently process information. According to Nurture, a child’s level of intelligence is therefore not determined by genetics. Intelligence is considered to be acquired as the child interacts with his/her environment.

Nature = the genetics argument – Nature is referred to as Nativism (Nativists)

Nurture = the environmental argument – Nurture is referred to as Empiricism (Empiricists)

Intelligence = the definition of Intelligence according to Piaget (1952) is ‘how an organism adapts to its environment’.

The Nature argument has its supporters and so does the Nurture argument. How about if we combine the two, and appreciate the fact that both sides of the debate have some merit, meaning that children come to know because of both Nature and Nurture.

If we accept that both Nature and Nurture contributes to intellectual development, then we are accepting the Interactionist argument; meaning that during the developmental stages, children are able to make sense of the world and develop their intelligence because of hereditary factors and social experiences.

Interactionism = children acquire knowledge because of both Nature and Nurture.

Thank you for all your help, you have built my confidence.

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