Nature vs Nurture Influences on Child Development

Siblings grow up in similar familial environments but are often quite different. Even twins usually develop contrasting personalities, despite sharing identical genes and similar immediate environments. What is it that causes these differences to occur? To what extent does genetic information influence an individual's development, and to what extent can the environment influence these changes? These are the questions that the debate of nature v/s nurture tries to address.

What is the Nature v/s Nurture Debate?

One of the recurring debates that divide biomedical professionals is the role of nature versus nurture in the development of life. Those who support nature claim that genetic determinism is responsible for "managing" the manifestation of an organism's physical and behavioral features. Genetic determinism is an internal control system similar to genetically-coded "computer" software. It is hypothesized that the differential activation of chosen mother and paternal genes collectively "download" an individual's physiologic and behavioral character or biological destiny during conception.

On the other hand, those who support "control" by nurture say that the environment has a role in "controlling" biological expression. Nurturists argue that environmental events, rather than gene control, have an important influence on creating the character of an individual's life. The schism between both ideologies merely reflects that those who support nature believe in an internal control mechanism (genes). In contrast, those who support nurture believe in an exterior control mechanism (environment).

Understanding how our personalities and attributes are formed by our genetic makeup and biological components, as well as how they are modified by our environment, which includes our parents, peers, and society, is the goal of the nature vs. nurture argument. Why, for example, do biological siblings occasionally behave like their parents? Is it the product of early childhood environments and what kids pick up from their parents, or is it related to genetic similarity?

Blank Slate Theory

Children used to be thought of as "blank slates" in the past. It was widely believed that parents could influence their children's growth through their behavior. In addition, parents felt much strain as a result of this approach. It implied that every choice, good or ill, small or big, would influence their child. Genes were eventually discovered. Studying genes allowed scientists to understand the influence it holds on each of us; however, the extent to which it does so still needs to be determined.

Interaction of Genes and Environment

The relationship between an attribute's innateness (whether it is a part of our nature) and the interaction of genes and the environment is a key problem in developmental psychology. Developmental psychologists no longer approach most areas of development from such polarised perspectives (either/or); rather, they look at how innate and environmental factors interact (both/and). The biopsychosocial paradigm, which holds that biological, psychological, and social (socio-economic, socio-environmental, and cultural) elements all influence human development, is frequently used by developmental psychologists to frame their study.

We all inherit certain genetic characteristics from our parents at birth, such as the color of our eyes, height, and some aspects of our personalities. Beyond our basic genotype, however, there is a profound interplay between our environment and genes: our particular experiences in our environment affect whether and how certain traits are expressed. At the same time, our genes affect how we interact with our environment. Nature and nurture interact in a reciprocal way to determine whom we become, although there is an ongoing discussion on the relative contributions of each.

Heritability is a concept in biology that indicates how much of the variation in a trait in a population is due to genetic differences in that group. Heritability refers to the genesis of differences among people. Even for highly heritable features like eye color, individual development is influenced by various environmental circumstances, including the other genes in the organism, the temperature, and the oxygen levels at the time of development. Gene-environment interaction is the study of how environmental factors influence gene expression. The degree to which underlying qualities and temperaments—such as fluency in a language—can be heritable depends on how genes and environment interact.

Nature vs. Nurture in the Daily Life of a Child

While genetics and environment play a major role in child development in all aspects like physical, psycho-social, motor development, etc., they can also influence the smallest relevant behaviors since infancy. It influences sleep, eating habits, etc. Some insights from ongoing research on how the nature vs. nurture debate plays out and can be applied in the daily life of infants are discussed further.

Sleep is influenced by both nature and nurture and has been laid out to provide an example.

The expected nature

It can be due to his genes that your child consistently wakes up at night. It was discovered that genes significantly influence a baby's sleeping habits in a study on identical and fraternal twins. Nearly all identical twins were seen to have a propensity for waking up during the night, but they also displayed similar napping habits. However, compared to identical twins, fraternal twins had a lower propensity to wake up during the night.

Nurture Influence

You can adjust a baby's sleeping routine to help him fall asleep more soundly if he is having trouble sleeping. One study showed that infants exposed to much daylight during the daytime slept better at night than those who were not, and this is because exposing newborns to sunshine helps them to maintain a regular sleeping and waking cycle. Aside from this, making small adjustments to your child's bedtime routine, such as avoiding distractions before bed, keeping the room quiet, and playing soothing music, may help them sleep better.


Neither environment nor genetics can fully determine the development of an individual, and rather, an interplay between these forces influences whom an individual grows up to be. It is important to remember that the environment strongly influences genetics and can help people with genetic ailments live fulfilling life.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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