4 Human Behavior: Nature or Nurture?


Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Describe Galton’s contributions towards the Nature and Nurture theory.
  • Differentiate between the influence of genes and environment, as well as a combination of both.
  • Define and Describe Epigenetics.
  • Explain the difference between Social Learning Theory and Genetic Inheritance Theory.
  • Explain the findings of the Bobo doll experiment.
  • Understand the Grizzly Bear article.
  • Understand the Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies article.
  • Understand key concepts and definitions pertaining to nature vs nurture.

Introduction: What Do We Mean By
Nature Vs Nurture?

In this chapter it is discussed that nature vs nurture is the debate of whether we are a product of nature (genetics) or nurture (environment). There is evidence supporting both sides of the debate. By the end of this, you should be able to determine that both nature and nurture play a key role in humans and animal behaviour.

Memory Match

The memory match game allows you to identify keywords pertaining to nature and nurture. The goal is to click a card and match the word on the card, with another card that has the same word. Now that you know how to play, let’s see how many you can match!


Sir Francis Galton
Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)

When we refer to nature, we are talking about our genetics that we inherit from our parents. A fairly recent study (Kamran, 2016) conducted in Pakistan suggests that the parallels drawn regarding the temperament of siblings are due to their genetics. The results of this study states that the genetic makeup of relatives of the family (even deceased) also influence how the child acts. These behaviours of the child are identifiable by the family members even though the deceased family member no longer is present.

Browse through Galton’s timeline and discover his story!

Pair the Pioneer

The following pioneers play a key role in what we know about nature and nurture today! The goal of the game is to pair the correct pioneer with the correct fact pertaining to the pioneer. If you place your mouse above the pioneer, there is a fun fact that has a clue to help. Be careful, there is a trick pioneer!

Key terms:
  • Nature: refers to all of the genes and hereditary factors that influence who we are- from our physical appearance to our personality characteristics (definition retrieved from verywellmind.com on November 17, 2019).
  • Epigenetics: the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence (definition retrieved from MerriamWebster.com on November 17, 2019)


Albert Bandura, born in 1925.

When we refer to nurture, we are talking about all the environmental factors that influence us. Environmental factors include but aren’t limited to parenting style, birth order, peers, family size, culture, language, education, etc. The main argument for nurture is that the environment is what makes us who we are. Those who are on the extreme side of nurture are empiricists. They believe humans are born as blank slates and acquire all information from their environment with their 5 senses.

Behaviorism, established by John Watson, is the theory that all behavior is a result of stimulation from the environment or a consequence of the individual’s previous conditioning. Behaviorism is a school of psychology that is on the side of nurture.

A study in 2019 performed an experiment on Bonobos (a species of chimpanzee) to observe social learning. The results of the experiment found supporting evidence that Bonobos are able to learn from observing others of their species just like humans.

Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory states that people learn by observing, imitating, and modeling behavior. In 1961, Bandura’s famous Bobo doll experiment’s findings support the argument for nurture in that our environment influences our behavior.

Key Terms: 

  • Nurture: Environmental factors that influence our growth and behaviour.
  • Empiricism: The belief that people are born as a blank slate learn everything from their environment.

Nature or Nurture? Or Both?

Given what we have discussed so far, is it genes or environment that influences behaviour? It is actually both genetic and social influences that contributes to an individual’s behaviour. Below is a video that explains how both components contribute to an individual.

Now that you understand how genes and environment work together, is it possible for one component to influence an individual more than the other? Below is an article that explains how grizzly bears’ conflict behaviour may attribute to genetic inheritance or social learning… talk about beary bad behaviour!

 Beary Bad Behaviour

Grizzly bear den

Welcome to the Grizzly Bear den. Inside there are paws, click any paw to learn key concepts within the article! Don’t worry, the bears won’t bite!

A study done in Alberta, Canada analyzed the genetic and environmental relationship of grizzly bears, pertaining to their offspring’s conflict behaviour. The study predicts that aggression is determined genetically from either biological parents. If the cub’s conflict behaviour is inherited from the father’s genes, then necessary relocation of wildlife protection is necessary to avoid human-conflict interaction. If the cub’s behaviour is inherited from the mother’s genes, then relocation of female bears is much more difficult to do as there are legal wildlife implications.

The study genotyped 213 grizzly bears, most of which were males. The study described conflict-beahviour or “problem bear” as those that exemplified invasive or aggressive behaviour on private property, public property, or had an incident with an individual. The results of the study indicated that the offspring of the female parent displayed a negative interaction more so than the offspring from the male parent.

According to Morehouse et al., (2016), “results support the social learning hypothesis, but not the genetic inheritance hypothesis as it relates to the acquisition of conflict behaviour. If human-bear conflict was an inherited behaviour, we would have expected to see a significant relationship between paternal conflict behaviour and offspring behaviour. Social learning has the potential to perpetuate grizzly bear conflicts highlighting the importance of preventing initial conflicts, but also removing problem individuals once conflicts start” (p.7). 

 Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies

In this study, it talks about the general observations of 50 study samples regarding over 800,000 pairs of twins and how their behavior may have been impacted by genes or by their environment. Due to the ethical limitations of human experimentation, there can only be a conclusion that there are mild causal effects. Heritable estimations are quite frankly useless in these studies because the results purely depend on the environmental conditions of the study participants, and it only becomes applicable when all participants are in the same environment.

If a separated teen is brought up in a rich environment, their gene makeup has a higher likelihood of being a factor in their upbringing. If his or her counterpart twin, in contrast, is brought up in a poor environment, the influence of their genes will be insignificant because of a less nurturing surrounding. Another example is the first sexual encounter on separated twins; do their shared genetics influence them to take action around the same time? The answer is no, because such events are a result of the environmental influences of delinquency.

Psychologist Eric Turkheimer states that there are essentially Three Laws of Behaviour Genetics:

“First Law: All human behavioural traits are heritable.

Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.

Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.”

He explains that genes only make up ~50% of our behaviours while the rest is influenced by our environment.

“The omnipresence of genetic influences does not [mean] that behaviour is less psychological or more biologically determined”, but it’s the facilitation of the environmental conditions that allows people to bring out their full behaviouristic tendencies to light; and even then, our genes are only half the story.


The following video is a study that looked at the effects of nature and nurture on twins. In short, there are many coincidences that may seem that their actions come from genetic relations.


  • To answer the question of whether we are a product of Nature or Nurture, we are both. We are a product of our genetics, and our environment. Through our genetics, we have a certain baseline personality, but that changes over time due to the influence of our surroundings: the people we hang out with and the overall level of nourishment in our growing environment.
  •  In summary, based on several studies and research it can be concluded that human behaviour is both nature and nurture. In addition, evidence also supports that animal behaviour specifically (grizzly bears) is also due to nature and nurture. Many aspects of the nature vs. nurture theory argues that various behaviours in humans are based both on genetics and the environment of an individual. However, it is possible that one variable from the theory may contribute more of an effect on the individual.


Chapter References

ABC News (2018, Mar 10) 20/20 Mar 9 Part 2: Adopted twins were separated and then part of a secret study. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://youtu.be/0-2FFsuitO4

Benjamin, J. (2017, March 31). Cancer: Nature Vs. Nurture. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://marybird.org/blog/olol/cancer-nature-vs-nurture

Biography.com Editors. (2019, August 28). Charles Darwin Biography. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://www.biography.com/scientist/charles-darwin.

Cherry, K. (2019, July 1). The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-nature-versus-nurture-2795392.

David L, “Social Learning Theory (Bandura),” in Learning Theories, February 7, 2019, https://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html.

Det medisinke fakultet. (2016, January 26). Epigenetics: Nature vs nurture. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://youtu.be/k50yMwEOWGU

Everywhere Psychology. (2012, August 28). Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://youtu.be/dmBqwWlJg8U.

FuseSchool-Global Education. (2019, August 27). Nature vs Nurture | Genetics | Biology | FuseSchool Retrieved November 18, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmctxRcmloc

Gervais, M. (2017, August 31). Dr. Albert Bandura – The Theory of Agency. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://art19.com/shows/minutes-on-mastery/episodes/a1cef11d-e32c-4f03-ba4a-262a91268f4c.

Johnson W, Turkheimer E, Gottesman II, Bouchard TJ Jr. Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies in Behavioral Research. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2010;18(4):217–220. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01639.x

Kamran, F., PhD. (2016). Are siblings different as ‘day and night’? parents’ perceptions of nature vs. nurture. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 26(2), 95-115. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/docview/1864042019?accountid=35875

Merriam-Webster. (2019). Retrieved November 17, 2019 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epigenetics

McLeod, S. A. (2016, Feb 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

McLeod, S. A. (2018, Dec 20). Nature vs nurture in psychology. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/naturevsnurture.html

Miko, I. (2008) Gregor Mendel and the principles of inheritance. Nature Education 1(1):134

Morehouse, A. T., Graves, T. A., Mikle, N., & Boyce, M. S. (2016). Nature vs. nurture: Evidence for social learning of conflict behaviour in grizzly bears. PLoS One, 11(11) doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2080/10.1371/journal.pone.0165425

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2011). The legacies of francis galton.Lancet, the, 377(9775), 1397-1397.doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60560-6

Shorland, G., Genty, E., Guéry, J.-P., & Zuberbühler, K. (2019). Social learning of arbitrary food preferences in bonobos. Behavioural Processes, 167. https://doi-org.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/10.1016/j.beproc.2019.103912

TED-Ed. (2013, March 12). How Mendel’s pea plants helped us understand genetics. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://youtu.be/Mehz7tCxjSE.

Thesaurus.Plus . (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://thesaurus.plus/thesaurus.

Turkheimer, E. (2000). Three laws of behavior genetics and what they mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science9(5), 160–164. https://doi-org.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/10.1111/1467-8721.00084

Winch, J. (2012, Mar 08). Genius with a finger on the pulse of discovery: Birmingham-born sir francis galton was a victorian genius. but today he would be thought a racist because of the controversial interest for which he is best remembered – eugenics. jessica winch reports. Birmingham Post. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/docview/926809806?accountid=35875

Wikipedia. (2019, November 16). Francis Galton. Retrieved November 17, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Galton.


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