Nature vs. Nurture- Adding more fuel to the fire

November 30, 2009

The debate of what is more important in human development- nature or nurture-has been going on for decades with scientists and psychologists constantly finding new ways to develop strategies to regulate human behavior. Interestingly, a new article published earlier this month in the Toronto Star, stands on the nurture side of things. In the article, the writers claim that many scientists now believe that 20% of a person’s life outcome is the result of their biology, or innate brain capacity. That means that the other 80% is determined by what happens after you are born! So what does this all mean? It means that a person’s behavior, life goals (i.e. becoming a rockstar vs. an aerospace engineer) and overall success is determined by your parents, schooling and early socialization. The article goes on to argue that even more interesting is that a male brain and a female brain at birth- are exactly the same. They even went on to give a biological reasoning behind this similarity. The authors argue that the newborn brain contains about 100 billion neurons and that the only difference between the adult and newborn brain is the number and types of synapses made – the total number of neurons however, stays the same. Further, the more synapses you make, the smarter you are. The authors argue that social factors at a young age, as well as throughout life are the major reason for differences in synapse formation. These findings have huge implications for the field of neuroscience as well as sociology. Essentially, they are arguing that gender roles and identities, that is the understanding that a male is different from a female and that there are different social norms and expectations attached to each- are all learned. This raises the importance of early childhood education and school curriculum. Specifically, the authors want to incorporate a concept known as “neuroeducation”, that is, that people deal differently with information, and that schools should adopt customized learning strategies to stimulate different types of brains. In all, these findings have important implications for our understanding of human behavior, and for the emphasis that we put on a child’s early home and school environment.

by Alisha Jamal, University of Toronto

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