Nature vs. Nurture

Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11604

Do we find someone to blame, or an excuse, for what we are? Experts argue whether we're born a certain way or were raised to be what we are. Research and join the discussion, then podcast your views!


People and Their Environment

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Somehow, somewhere, you became the person you are.

  • Where did you get your characteristics?
  • Physical characteristics is the easy part; look at your parents! Where did your personality traits come from?

Read on to see if you can figure it out!

Create a list of ten characteristics that depict you.

Think of how you would describe your personality, abilities, and physical appearance. Once the list is made, write "G" for genetics next to all the characteristics that are a result of your DNA, and "E" next to all the characteristics that are a result of your environment or the way you were raised. If you think any characteristics could be attributed to both, label them "GE."

Discuss your list and the labels with your parent or teacher.

  • Looking at your list, did you have more characteristics labeled for genetics or environment?
  • Did anything confuse you?

While figuring out what your characteristics should be attributed to, you participated in one of science's longstanding debates: nature versus nurture.

  • Nature refers to what individuals inherit through DNA. It is biological, and nature will often be referred to as genetics.
  • Nurture refers to socialization, what a person is exposed to in life. Nurture will often also be called environment.

Biological scientists and behavioral scientists have tried to discover whether nature or nurture plays a more defining role in how we act, diseases we develop, and our intelligence level. Since we are "nurtured" from birth, it can be difficult to separate the influences of nature and nurture.

If you haven't yet explored the previous lesson in this series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, it will help you to do so. You will learn about the story of "Genie."

Genie was a rare case of social isolation, so scientists were especially interested in her language abilities. Although she eventually learned, when she was discovered as a teenager, Genie was not potty-trained, and she did not have a normal walk. When assessed, Genie had a lower-than-average IQ.

  • If Genie was not intellectually disabled when she was born, what can we infer about the relationship between intelligence level and environment?
  • Obviously, it would be unethical to separate babies from their parents, so how else could researchers study the impacts of nature and nurture?

Researchers have often used identical twins to help answer their questions regarding nature versus nurture. Identical twins are developed from one egg and, therefore, share 100% of the same DNA. Fraternal twins develop from separate eggs and only share 50% of the same DNA.

Watch this short video, Nature and Nurture: The Study of Twins from educatioanlAus:

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Identical twins who are raised apart are especially intriguing to scientists because they share nature but presumably have different life experiences. The Minnesota Twin Studies began in 1989 — Learn more about the project and what it currently includes by reading Monitor's article "A double life" (Lea Winerman, American Psychological Association).

When talking about identical twins that have been raised apart, Dr. Nancy Segal says, "environments are partly of our own making."

  • What do you think she means by that?

Both nature and nurture are clearly important in determining who we are. As scientists continue their research, they are finding that the two factors are incredibly intertwined.

In the next section, you will review what you have learned.

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