DNA OR CULTURE: WHO’S IN THE DRIVING SEAT? AN ARTICLE ABOUT THE NATURE-NURTURE DEBATE
The Nature versus Nurture dichotomy that has sparked among psychologists a debate since the beginning of the field may in fact have its roots in philosophy with one of its fundamental preoccupations being the nature and progression of human life: Does it follow a fairly specified plan set by nature’s laws or does it change and adapt according to circumstance? Are our lives in fact a product of what we have inherited from our biological predecessors or do we come into this world as an empty canvas, at the mercy of the external world which decides the kind of painting we will ultimately develop to be? In the larger scheme of things, the underlying question may perhaps be, how much control do we really have over the course that our lives take? In essence, what decides who we are and what we do?
The relationship between heredity and environment is much like the north and south poles, extremely different yet exerting an equal amount of influence, as a result keeping the earth in balance. Nature and nurture together play a crucial role in the development of one’s life, whether in the physical, cognitive, or socio-cultural aspects.
If you have you ever heard people claim anything along the lines of “your eyes are the exact copy of your mother’s” or “you look exactly the way your father did when he was your age”, this indicates an obvious genetic inheritance. On the other hand, you might have curly frizzy hair, while both your parents have straight hair. What we often overlook is that the environment has a considerable influence on a physical quality that is considered primarily genetic, yet over which one has little to no control. For instance, your frizzy hair may be because of the temperature, humidity, amount of sunlight, and a range of other things you’re not even aware of. Several of us have grown up hearing that we get our talents from older generations or a relative. While it may be true that you have inherited an aptitude or a “talent” for sports or music, think about what would happen to those talents if you are not provided with a conducive environment and been allowed to explore these potentials; it is highly unlikely that they would have developed anywhere close to what they have today.
Yet another example of the intimate relationship between heredity and environment is health. Heart disease and diabetes run in several Indian families for generations, putting future generations in a genetically vulnerable position, or stated simply, at risk. Genes are a very physical reality that cannot be ignored even if they cannot be “seen”. We think that genes and environment are two separate things; the interesting thing we don’t realize is that the manifestation of these genes is – to a substantial extent – under one’s control, although indirectly.
For instance, if you are able to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, avoid excessive consumption of substances like tobacco or alcohol, and minimize stress levels, then not only is it possible to prevent (or at least keep in control) contracting heart disease, it may even inhibit the gene’s potency for children you may have. Thus, the quality and intensity of the existing genes are altered and influenced according to the environmental input as well as an individual’s behaviour, indicating yet again the dynamic and interactive relationship between nature and nurture.
It appears that the Nature-Nurture debate is not really a dichotomy; their relationship is not of opposition but of harmony, or rather a duality resembling the ancient Chinese concept of yin-yang, a symbol of mixtures and balance wherein one influences the other in such a way that it is sometimes impossible and at other times futile to try and distinguish to what degree a quality is purely one or another. However, what proves most fascinating is how each of these combinations of nature and nurture on various dimensions separates each animal (for evolutionarily speaking, that that is what we are) from another and turns us into unique individuals with a life story that can belong to no one else.
The aforementioned combination is perhaps the ‘god-particle’ that is responsible for shaping the overt behavior that CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy claims to address and deal with. This in itself is responsible in affecting our thoughts, beliefs, ideas and actions.