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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Awkward Question of Nature vs Nurture

Which is better, nature or nurture?  Which influences more of who someone is: nature or nurture?  While science has been asking this question less and less, people are still asking adoptees to give their answers.  I think these questions are unfair for a variety of reasons, namely, because it asks adoptees to choose between two families and say which is better.  Who does the adoptee then validate?  Whose feelings do they hurt?  Not to mention, is it really any of the question asker's business to begin with?

But the question, scientifically speaking, is outdated.  According to the book, Nature via Nurture (2003), the author, Ridley, says:
"For more than 50 years sane voices have called for an end to the debate.  Nature versus nurture has been declared everything from dead and finished to futile and wrong--a false dichotomy.  Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows that human beings are a product of a transaction between the two....The discovery of how genes actually influence human behavior and how human behavior influences genes, is about to recast the debate entirely.  No longer is it nature versus nurture but nature via nurture."
I have always said that I am both nature and nurture and I see how both have shaped me and I am sure there are things I haven't seen yet, may some day see differently, or may never see.  I also make my own choices.  Adoptees (and other individuals such as donor conceived persons) have likely been asked to give their take (using their own lives as an example, no less) on this debate more than any other group, what say you about the quote?  If you've been asked a nature vs. nurture question by a random, curious person, do you answer or tell them to mind their own business?


  1. Amanda thanks again for some food for thought... I've been asked the same question very often although not really as a question. It would be implied or assumed that I'm either siding with my adoptive parents or my birth parents... Why that is I don't know...
    I think people are generally curious despite the fact that (international) adoption has been around since the 1950s there's still not the same amount of knowledge or not too say understanding out there.

  2. I've always wondered how such a question affects adoptees since so very often it gets asked with a line drawn in the sand - it's either this way or the other, you can't have both.

    And yet we are all, adopted and not, a creation of both nature and nurture but, it seems, only in adoption does this question take on so much importance.

    I can tell you, from my own experience, my son who is an adoptee, is very much both nature and nurture. He is one complete person created by both, just as everyone else is.

    Great post Amanda!

  3. While nature is vital we are not raised in a vacuuum so both play their part.Scientists have not been smart enough to work out the balances -let's hope they never do!Von

  4. Amanda, while I don't necessarily disagree with you, I did disagree with your statement... "these questions are unfair for a variety of reasons, namely, because it asks adoptees to choose between two families and say which is better." Because, speaking from the scientific side, adoptees are actually the most perfect individuals to ask what their take is - what they see.... It has very little to do with choosing a side. The reunited adoptee or an adoptee that can be studied, not that I would, without reunion, and the natural family studied, again without reunion, would give some definitive answers.

    I do believe that asking is rude and no one is a lab rat.

    Nature is the base and Nurture are the paints that change the canvas and give it form..... not a choice, just what is.

  5. Lori, in my experience when I have been asked this question (especially when has been an Adoptive Parent asking), the context of the situation is to ask the adoptee which family has shaped who they are, more than the other. In the same conversations, especially on message boards where a variety of people can comment, you'll see things interjected such as "giving birth doesn't make you a mother!!!" and "DNA doesn't make you who you are!!" and "anyone can have a baby, not everyone can be a mother!!" You are so right about adoptees having insight on this issue. But some people use the conversation to validate one family over the other at the adoptee's expense, not because they actually care about the science behind it.

  6. As an adoptive mother, I get asked this question frequently. Generally by someone who doesn't give me time to respond, but immediately launches into how parenting probably doesn't matter. This may or may not be closely followed by questions such as, "So how much do you know about your children's 'real family?"'

    In short, in my experience it is generally asked by someone who has an agenda, whether they admit to it or not.

    If given the chance to respond, I would say it does not matter. Even with biological children it is wrong to assume they are little clones who will become like their parents. Everyone is shaped by genetics, environment and experiences. And everyone should be treated like an individual and appreciated for who they are.

  7. imo, they (nature and nurture) go hand in hand. Depending on how our Nature is cared for (nurtured) - or not - results in the person we turn out to be. This is where adoptees run into problems, because, often adoptive parents have no common ground with the child they adopt (and sadly resent that we have different interests and aptitudes).


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