There are many theories of growth and development that have influenced society’s viewpoint about how a human being is shaped and formed into a person.  The subject of “nature versus nurture” has been a controversial one for centuries, with the twenty-first century theorists relying more heavily on genetic research to determine just how much influences human behavior.

Heredity Versus Environment

According to Vacc & Loesch (2000, pp. 31-32), “researchers have suggested that genetic factors account for approximately 40-50% of differences in cognitive skills, 30-40% of differences in temperament, and 20-30% of emotional characteristics.”  Clearly the genetic link is very influential in human behavior.  In my own experience with working with families who have had children placed into foNature Vs NurtureCredit: morguefile.comster care at birth, it is not difficult to see the traits, characteristics, and behaviors that are similar to the biological parent even if the child is not being raised with the biological parent.Developmental Theory

According to Schriver (2001), Erik Erikson’s developmental theory addresses five stages that a child must go through before adolescence.  These stages include development of trust, autonomy, initiative, and industry.  If a child is developing “normally” through this process and has a firm attachment to at least one caregiver, the child will be resilient and well adjusted.  Unfortunately, not all children live in an environment where they can have a healthy psychosocial development.

Abuse and Neglect's Influence

When abuse disrupts development of children, it is particularly devastating.  Children are betrayed by their caretakers who are often adults they felt they could trust.  Not having the developmental skills to reason as an adult, children are often unable to answer the complicated questions well meaning adults may ask about their abuse (the environment), and then children’s responses are often deemed unreliable or not credible.  If a child is in a home where there is neglect or physical abuse they may seek out relationships with anyone who will give them attention and be a target for predators.  Adversely, a child who is securely attached to caregivers at home, is well adjusted and has a positive self-image, is less likely to be victimized by a predator.   Environmental factors of abuse and neglect not only affect children in their early stages of development and into adolescence, it continues to affect interpersonal relationships throughout life.
The environmental effect of media portrayal of passive women and controlling men upholds an imbalance of power that affects growth and development.  The continuation of expected passivity of women has lead to a society that disbelieves victims of abuse and often invalidates the victims experience.

The Debate Continues... Nature Vs. Nurture

Genetics and environment continue to interplay as a human grows and develops.  Each individual has potential that is guided by their genetics and then shaped ultimately by their environment.   “…genetics alone cannot sufficiently account for all the factors in the development of an individual, although genetics does serve as the basis for the shared experience of the human existence.” (Vacc & Loesch, 2000, p. 32).  Environmental influences such as poverty, racism, drug or alcohol abuse, violence, media and other social influences continue to shape each of us as we journey through life.


Vacc, N., & Loesch, L. (2000). Professional orientation to counseling (3rd ed). Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. ISBN: 9781560328513

Schriver, J. M. (2001).  Traditional/dominant perspectives on individuals.  In Human behavior and the social work environment: Shifting paradigms in essential knowledge for social work practice (3rd ed., pp. 168-232).  Boston, MA:  Allyn & Bacon.

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