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.