Nature vs. Nurture

     The debate between nature versus nurture has long been the dividing line among many scientists, psychologists, researchers, and How to Raise Kids for Dummies books, and for good reason. In short, the nature side of the debate stems from research in genetics. Nature says that genes play a large role in not only our looks, but also our health, intelligence, and even personality. The nurture side of the debate examines work done by behavioral psychologists such as Pavlov, Skinner and Watson. Their work focused on the principles of conditioning; the same principles used, in fact, to train your dog. By giving the dog a command and then shaking their paw, and then rewarding them, you are conditioning the dog to know that if they shake when they hear the command, they will receive a treat. Nurture says that people are “trained” along the same principles. Freud, using his theory on the moral development involving the Id, Ego, Super Ego, even goes as far as saying that children are born evil and are trained to be good.

     Many case studies have been conducted to examine how much influence our genes and our nurturing actually affect our development. The most reliable studies were conducted on identical twins who were adopted and separated at birth. By studying these twins development into adulthood, researchers were able to clearly see how much the twins were influenced by their different adopted families and by their identical genes. The researchers recorded that twins shared health problems, food preferences, IQ levels, personalities, hobbies and interests, and even brain waves. However, researchers found that the adopted parents played a large role in the twins’ religious, political and moral beliefs, as well as their level of self-discipline. This means that parents have little say in their child’s personality, but they can influence how they feel about certain subjects and their moral choices.

     Another important piece of research to consider for the nature versus nurture debate is based upon Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, which builds according to an individual’s greatest needs. At the base of the pyramid are the basic needs: food, water, and the ability to breathe, then comes security needs like shelter and a job, then family and friendship, then self-esteem, and finally ending in morality. Maslow states that if one of these needs is not being met, than the person does not have the energy or ability to worry about the less important needs above it. This is an important concept especially when researching child development. Genetically, a child may have the capacity for a 130 IQ score, but they may never achieve it because they were too concerned with meeting their basic needs. If incorrectly nurtured, a child cannot reach their genetic potential, even if the capacity is there.

     I personally believe, as many other researchers would agree, that nature and nurture are both equally important roles in development. If a child goes without nurturing they may have the capacity to learn, but are unable to apply himself or herself because of a bad situation or lack the self-discipline needed to accomplish their goals. Genetics are equally important because many times they explain an individual’s behavior and can be traced to other family members that suffer the same problems. Knowing a person’s genetics and upbringing are the key pieces of information that psychologists can use to help people deal with their problems and find preventative measures to decrease the risk of further problems.

     When studying two individuals like Dick and Perry, the nature versus nurture debate becomes a very important dividing line because psychologists and people in general want to know the signs to look for in a killer. Are there tell tale genetic signs that will point to killer in the making, or do certain traumas and parenting failures lead individual’s to a life of murder? When examining Perry’s life I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory comes highly into play. Perry was so poor as a child that his entire existence revolved around finding food, and not starving to death. His parents, being poor rodeo performers, were also just trying to make it, and were not concerned with getting their children the best education or training them properly. They just wanted to make sure they all did not starve each night after the show. Perry’s home life was violent, unstable, and ultimately based on survival. When a child is raised in an environment where they are continually focused on their own survival, it leads to a permanent change in the child’s reasoning and any moral structure they once had. All they know is that they need to survive, and they will find a way to do that even at the expense of others. Perry was very concerned with his own survival, and when it came down to him not having food because Dick spent it all, he was willing to leave Dick, in order for him to receive the best outcome. Perry had terrible rages, aimed especially at authority figures like his father and the army sergeant he threw off the bridge. This was influenced by his parents’ lack of control and self-discipline, which he then modeled himself after. Perry’s paranoid schizophrenic condition however greatly influenced his choices and criminal behavior. He was constantly living inside of some sort of fantasyland, denying the reality of his problems, and focusing rather on far-fetched dreams.

     Dick, however, did not grow up in the level of poverty that Perry experienced as a child. Dick had a stable home environment, attended school, had his basic needs met, but was unable to attend college because of monetary issues. Dick’s parents were Christians and raised him to share their values. Most of his problems began after a head injury in a car accident, and this might lead people to assume that some of his criminal behavior might be linked to a brain injury. However, his criminal activity might also be linked to a stressful relationship with his wife, in which he began writing bad checks to cover living above their means. Even though Dick’s parents nurtured him to have values and morals, his personality intervened. He acts almost like a sociopath, knowing right from wrong, but never taking responsibility for his actions, and not attributing any moral conscience to those actions. I think Dick was mostly influenced by his character disorder, and not the nurture of his parents. I would even go as far as saying his parents loved him too much.

     In the cases of Dick and Perry, I would have to say that their choices were heavily influenced by their various genetic disorders, however, the nurturing from their parents played a large role in their lack of self-discipline and self-control. If they had been nurtured properly, I doubt that they would have developed into full functioning adults, but they may have made better choices.

Information on Nature vs Nurture debate:

Myers, David G.. Exploring Psychology. 7 ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007. Print.

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     When I first came upon these lines on the empty page of Capote’s book, my first thoughts were, “Why is this in French, and what is its significance?” I also wondered why Capote chose to place it on an empty page, in small type- seemingly unimportant, and yet somehow making a statement as readers passed it by for the beginnings of Section I. I found a couple different translations of the lines from the work Ballade Des Pendus (Ballad of the Hanged) by Francois Villon. The first translates as, “Mortal brothers who after us live on, be not hardened when our fate is known, but pity our ills when we are gone, and likewise God will pity your own.” The second translates as, “Oh brother, men who live though we are gone, let not your hearts be hardened at the view, for if you pity us you gaze upon, God is more likely to show you mercy too.” I was partial to the second translation because I liked the use of the phrase, “hearts be hardened,” better than just “be hardened,” because it appeals to the person’s feelings and not their analytical reasons. The heart speaks of mercy, but the mind only sees justice. While justice always speaks the truth, mercy is the one who knows the truth and decides to forgive anyway. I would much rather be judged with mercy than justice.

     Both verses speak of the guilty being judged by those who are seemingly innocent. They wish for those who judge them to take pity on them, and consider the reasons for their crimes, reminding them that they should hope God will pity them for their own hidden crimes on the Day of Judgment. Villon speaks as though he is among the outwardly guilty, begging for those who judge him to have pity on his life. These lines were a personal outcry for help. A man whose heart was full of guilt and shame, half way resigned to death, but still praying for a second chance and a glimmer of hope.

     Recognizing the author’s personal connection to these very simple lines, I felt the correlation between Villon and Capote’s novel must also stem from the man’s past and not just his poetry. As it turned out, Francis Villon led a hard life with many chances at a lifeline. He was born in Paris, 1431 to a young French couple who were trying to survive the poverty-stricken time of the British occupation. Villon’s father died when he was young, and his mother sent him to work under Guillaume de Villon, a Catholic Church chaplain, and eventual professor of ecclesiastical law at the University of Paris. Francois was raised by Guillaume and took his name. Villon received his Bachelors and Masters degrees and was looking at a career in either the church or law, a few years later, he was convicted of killing a priest in a bar fight and was pardoned from his crime. This was just the beginning of a spree of petty crimes and royal pardons from connected friends and admirers of his work. Throughout his many crime sprees, Villon continued to write poetry, using one poem as an alibi to his whereabouts on the night of a robbery he and his friends committed. Villon seemed destined for the gallows, and it was during one such brush with death that he wrote Ballad of the Hanged. His sentence was later reduced to ten years banishment from the city of Paris, but it was the last time anyone heard from him again.

     Some would argue that Capote included these lines from Villon’s Ballad of the Hanged as a means of contrasting Villon’s life with Dick and Perry’s life of crime. I believe however, that Capote was really comparing Perry to Villon. Both men were brought up in poverty until finally finding comfort in a man of God, who cared for them and tried to show them the way to a good life. Perry was uneducated, but like Villon was an intellectual and creative. Both had a way with words and used their gift to express themselves through different mediums, gaining recognition and respect through their work. Both men ignored the lifelines thrown to them throughout their adulthood; preferring a life of unpredictability, crime, and association with those who would never understand them or recognize their wasted talent.

     For these reasons Capote could not have picked any other author to pen his quote, however, I believe that it is Capote who wished these words for Perry, not Perry himself. That those who judged Perry for his crime would have pity on him and find the blackness that corrupts their own heart.

First Translation:

Villon, Francois . “Marion Shore: Poet, Poetry, Picture, Bio.” The HyperTexts. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2010. <;.

Second Translation:

Brooks, E. Bruce. “On Translation| Villon: Ballade des Pendus.” 5 Dec 2002. University of Massachusetts. 26 July 2010.

Francois Villon Information:

“Francois Villon.” Acadamy of American Poets. 26 July 2010

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Capote: Character Development

     Capote has a natural talent for unearthing his subjects’ motivations, fears, and principles. He reaches into their lives and by exploring their past and present is able to understand their behavior and speak for their actions. For Capote, and many people who recognize individuals as a product of their past, he refrains from looking at a character in black and white, and prefers to see them in shades of grey. No one is completely innocent or completely villain and he uses this philosophy to paint the portraits of his characters. Instead of painting a red line through the cast of characters and labeling it, “Good guys and bad guys,” Capote chooses to let readers draw their own conclusions about the innocence of the each individual and the importance of their role in the story. This is an important part of his novel. He dissuades from labeling characters and allows the story to tell itself to the reader.

     Capote’s journalism instinct also drives him to use his characters to create a well-rounded story, shifting the spotlight from one character to another rather than focus the spotlight on one specific hero or villain. By spotlighting minor characters, Capote is able to exhibit the varied concerns of the townspeople, as well as to highlight to the reader the diverse range of emotions playing upon the townspeople: fear, anger, suspicion, and a growing sense of frustration at the lack of information and as the criminals elude capture. Capote also knows the importance of first reactions, and feels that each individual’s reaction to the murders of the Clutter family will provide a raw look into the town and the relationships between his other characters. In these minor characters’ reactions, he discovers the prejudices and old family feuds that drive the town of Holcomb and its inhabitants. With each reaction, his story evolves and churns, filling in spaces and leaving more to be filled. Where would capote have been without these characters adding life and history to his facts, and driving his novel with their suspenseful looks between lines?

            I personally, took notice of Mrs. Clare the postmistress for the town of Holcomb. She was a woman who had seen her share of hard times, and was not about to let town gossip change her mind about the world or drag up an ounce of fear. She put her own logic to work, deducing her own theory as to who murdered the family, and left it at that. I think Myrt understood that you could not change something that had already happened, so what was the point of fretting over it. Some might look at her and consider her cold, but I think she had been around long enough to know that it was not worth her heartache, and she knew that the world was just a hard place and people were predictably capable of evil. And of course, that everyone else should toughen up and accept the world as it is.

            Capote should be given a lot of credit for realizing the importance of the many townspeople and the other characters that Dick and Perry met along the way. Their testimony dragged the reader further and further into the mystery; raising questions and providing the secrets needed to understand the complexity of the case and of the mindset needed to kill.

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