There has been a longstanding debate within social science of nature versus nurture, with respect to personality development and change throughout the life course. ‘Nature’ refers to your biology: your biological instincts to survive and reproduce. ‘Nurture,’ then, is the idea of society’s cultural standards of parental care.
There is the case of Genie, who was kept chained to a high chair in a room until she was 13. When she was discovered at the age of 13, she could barely speak, only knowing about 20 words, could barely walk, and she was devoid of all of the things that really make people human.
When people are deprived of social interaction, culture, and society, they really can't become human. That is the essence of your biology. Somebody who, at the age of 13, has the cognitive development of a one-year-old is an example of what happens when we're deprived of nurture. This is what happens when nurture is absent in personality development.
When you're in the company of others, you learn how to live among others. You learn how to live in groups. This is called socialization. Socialization is the lifelong process of learning one's culture and of internalizing the norms and behaviors that are considered appropriate of adults in the society.
You go through socialization throughout your life. You don’t simply become socialized once when you’re a child, and that's it. It’s true that the bulk of socialization occurs as a child, but every life stage has its own elements to learn, in order to get on successfully in that life stage. Therefore, socialization doesn't stop after childhood.
Through socialization, people develop personalities. When you interact with people, you try out personalities and define them. Slowly but surely, you crystallize into your own personality, which encompasses your stable, behavioral characteristics, such as your ingrained ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.
EXAMPLEIn another lesson, you’ll see how personality and the sense of self can only develop through social interaction. Recall the example of Genie, the child who was deprived of social interaction when growing up; she wasn’t able to go through socialization and develop her personality.
Sigmund Freud developed one of the most famous theories of personality ever advanced, called Freud's model of personality. Freud's model incorporates elements of both nature and nurture. Freud theorized that our brains and our minds have three parts: the superego, the ego, and the id.
EXAMPLEBiologically, you might want to have sex with any number of people, anytime you want. However, you can't do that because there are cultural norms, values and expectations surrounding sexual conduct. These two competing forces, representing the id and the superego, negotiate with the ego. The ego negotiates for you to follow the culturally sanctioned pathways to sexual satisfaction (the superego) that the id might not necessarily want to follow.
Another theory of personality was developed by psychologist John Watson, known as Watson's Behaviorism. Watson theorized that all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings are learned behaviors. As learned behaviors, they are not in some part lodged in our basic biology, as Freud theorized.
Watson is firmly on the side of nurture with respect to personality development, because he theorized that all actions, thoughts, and feelings are learned behaviors. How do we learn them? We learn them socially. Watson unified this idea in a theoretical approach called behaviorism, which held that all of our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings can be explained by interaction with our environment--they are learned behaviors. You don't need to waste time speculating on the internal state of your mind and mapping some strange internal consciousness like Freud did with the id, the ego, and the superego, because it doesn't matter. All of behavior is environmentally rooted in the environment in which you learn it.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Zach Lamb.