Monthly Archives: April 2014


How Much is Behavior Based on Nature Versus Nurture?


photo by Mindaugas Danys

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To what extent should we take into account genetic pre-dispositions when evaluating and responding to other people’s actions?


Science has identified two major influences which affect the person you grow to be: nature (your innate qualities and genetics) and nurture (your personal experiences and environment). These two factors play a major role in the upbringing of a human, but to what extent does each contribute to how a person behaves? Many remain polarized on how to factor genetics into our actions and reactions, or whether we should take them into account at all. With opportunities to send off your saliva for genome sequencing, the option to consider genetics when preventing or reacting to behaviors is tempting. Certain courtrooms are beginning to accept defenses citing biomedical explanations about aggression genes, and even toddler tantrums can be dealt with differently according to genetic findings. Do we need to consider genetics before judging or responding to somebody?

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal states that environmental sensitivity is directly attributable to genetic factors. These scientists have categorized people into two general groups: the orchids, whose behaviors are much more susceptible to environmental factors, and the dandelions, who are relatively less affected by external factors. These differences in environmental sensitivity are due to variations in genes that regulate dopamine production, such as DRD4. Those who produce less dopamine – the orchids – have a tendency to wilt under stringent and negative conditions and to flourish under stable and positive conditions.

According to the data, there was clear-cut evidence that the children with a DRD4 variant were more responsive (i.e. decreased aggression) when exposed to positive changes in parental treatment. This indicates that taking genetics into account can in fact promote better informed responses to behaviors. Yet some scientists question the validity of a genetic predisposition to environmental sensitivity, and others mention confounding factors such as natural variation in people’s genetics or upbringing, among a host of other influences. How much emphasis should we place on genetics when evaluating other’s actions, or responding to them?