Monday, October 1, 2012

AS LEVEL: Nature VS Nurture debate

The nature versus nurture debate started during the 1800s just when sociology was recognized as a part of science. It is a highly controversial topic that debates whether human behavior is basic living instincts, predetermined by cognitive programming or slowly molded by each individual’s upbringing and external social factors. It has been discussed and concluded many times by sociologists, biologists and psychologists with their own opinions.

Biologists and genetic doctors believe that humans inherit and grow according to their biological programming. Many would assume that the genes we were born with would be the ultimate factor for our intelligence and learning habits. As a study by a team of UCLA scientists in year 2009 shows, human intelligence is highly heritable and genetically determined.  This is due to the quality of axons in the white matter of the brain is strongly controlled by genetic factors. The axons are the transmitters and decoders of the external stimulations an individual may come across. It shows that the lesser the quality of the axons, the slower the brain develops and matures to fully comprehend complex thoughts and knowledge. The qualities of an individual’s axons are completely genetic and cannot be modified in any way. Therefore, it’s proven that everyone is born with different IQ levels genetically programmed that cannot be altered.

Although proven that biological factors may also play some part in determining human behavior, it is proven that our intelligence can be trained and pushed to higher levels. The results based on Dr Rick Heber’s Milwaukee Project shows to stand for the latter. He conducted a case study on 40 newborns from Milwaukee, whose parents had IQ lower than 80 and found out that the care and love provided, in other words primary socialization, is essential to a child’s mental development. The newborns involved suffered from maternal and social deprivation. They were assigned randomly into two contrasting environments which are the control group, which was left in a rougher and poorer environment and experimental group, which was brought up in a high-quality environment. According to Heber and his colleagues, all the children from the experimental group had higher IQ than all the children from the control group, when the children left the study at age of six. But the case doesn’t end here. To further prove that socialization is the main factor of human behavior, the same children were tested again at the age 14 and all were found to be performing in school as such a child with a mean IQ of 80 would, despite the previous achievements during the programme which shows that the human brain develops according how it was taught and socialized. For this reason, Professor Arthur Jensen said that this programme does not produce permanent intelligence gain which further demonstrates the importance of socialization. Hence, it is concluded that our degree of intelligence are strongly affected by our primary and secondary socialization and that our IQ would probably deteriorate if we stopped socializing.

Psychologists claim that the main determinant of human behavior is the cognitive programming of the human mind. The widely-known theory of the three parts of the mind, superego, ego and id was first brought up by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. He analyzed that there are three parts of the human mind, the id, superego and ego. The id is the part that we were born with, the part of the mind where our basic instincts are. This part of the human conscious displays our true desires and wants. The next part that matures is the ego. The ego is based on the reality principle. It balances the needs of our id while helping us keeps our head on the situation of reality. Lastly, our superego develops at the age of five. This is the part of our mind where our moral values and conscience exists. After this final part matures, our brain becomes capable of practical thought and consideration. Thus, according to Freud’s concept of the human brain, it shows that psychological factors are the main constructors of personality and behavior.
This is however a self-contradicting argument. In order for the three components of the brain to mature, they had to go through a series of primary socialization. The superego is the best example to prove that part of the brain develops and acts due to socialization. The superego is a state of mind where the norms and values of society are stored. If there weren’t any socialization, how would this part of the brain evolve to have the moral consciousness? Therefore, it is reasoned that the act and state of mind is mostly social constructed.

Sociologists came up with the latest opinion of all three sides to the argument, that human behavior is nurtured and altering every time socialization takes place. This side believes that the predetermined factors only lay a foundation for the interaction with the external society and other individuals to trigger human behaviour.

Without proper socialization, humans cannot learn to behave appropriately to fit in. Feral children are the results of children that are deprived of social interaction with other humans. The case of Ro Cham H’pnhieng, the Mowgli woman from Cambodia shows that both primary and secondary socialization are crucial for a person’s development. Ro Cham H’pnhieng, a 27 year old female who was thought to be killed by wild animals after she went missing at the age of 8. Although Ro Cham H’phieng was able to behave normally before she went missing, she became a feral case because she didn’t continue to socialize with humans. This case not only shows that socialization is important but it also indicates that it is a lifelong process and cannot be stopped.

Food is a big part of every culture and a major evidence of how human behavior is determined by sociological factors. It evolves alongside the culture itself to suit the local environment. Food has become part of our self-identity. Just like, pasta is often associated with Italians or curry with Indians, we can learn a lot about a person’s environment and social upbringing. As to the quote, “We are what we eat”, our eating habits reflect who we are and our culture. Additionally, food taboos are also evidence that external factors shape us and our behavior. The factors of food taboos are such as state of cleanliness and religious restrictions. There are a large variety of food taboos but only one is shared universally, cannibalism which is frowned upon by society due to moral values and norms. Therefore, pieces of our culture are also strong proof that human behavior was mainly determined by socialization.

Among the popular theories that prove socialization is the main determined of human behavior is the theory of suicide by one of the founding father of sociology, Emile Durkheim. The main instinct in all animals is to survive. To want to commit suicide is the exact opposite of survival and goes against human nature, therefore can be reasoned to be socially-constructed and influenced by external factors. According to Durkheim’s investigations, he found that suicide rates shoot up even when society is in peace economically and socially because the norms and values of society aren’t clear. It shows that people tend to commit suicide during normless times. He called these anomic suicides. Durkheim also touched on the reverse of anomic suicides which is fatality suicides. This theory displays suicides factored by too much norms and rules of the society. People get too wound up due to the endless dos and don’ts and expectations of society and put an end to it. Other than that, another suicide theory is egoistic suicides. These suicides are consequences of low levels of integration in society. The people who commit egoistic suicides are often socially neglected, unsupported by members of their social groups and rejected by the norms of society. Lastly, Durkheim also discovered altruistic suicides which are commonly known as sacrificial deaths. Individuals who commit altruistic suicides give primary thought and consideration to the interest of the whole community before his own welfare. Thus, this concludes that suicide is a contradiction of nature and is only brought up by negative social forces.
Languages are the main aspect of communication. The variety of languages is socially formed by the place and heritage of every different community. Look at Mandarin for instance, people all over the world speak it yet there are slangs and phrases only a certain branch of the race would know. This occurs due to the different places and societies all over the world developing while speaking the same language. The way our native tongue sounds and how we pronounce it is much affected by our socialization and surroundings. Hence, different languages are crucial evidence that human behavior is mostly socialized.

The norms and values of our culture have shaped our conception of the gender roles to a very narrow perspective. Rigid ideas that nudges the gender stereotyping such as the dominant and submitting roles of a household or even the colour association to genders are all formed by social forces. According to US feminist Barbara G. Walker’s book “The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets”, women were the alpha characters in most Neolithic civilizations. The book touches on the social construction of a matriarchal society which has been around before civilization. Walker has shown much evidence that a matriarchal society is also shaped by religion, environment and socialization of early human beings. Moreover, it also brings out points showing that transition from the matrilineal to patrilineal ways of life happened later than ancient civilization and was mostly socially constructed. This was further proved with American culture anthropologist Margaret Mead’s case study of three primitive tribes at Papua New Guinea which are the Aparesh, Mundugumour and Chambri tribes. She found out that three tribes had different gender roles for men and women which prove that the sexual division of labour in society isn’t biologically programmed into human beings. Therefore, it is shown that we weren’t born with the gender roles biologically programmed, but we’re primarily socialized to pick up the norm of our society. 

Biological factors no doubt lays a foundation for us to have the ability to learn but it’s our surroundings and social forces that lastly determine how humans behave. Psychological aspects are no doubt shaped in the human mind yet it is still in an irresolute state where social forces are the factors that trigger it into behavior. Thus, it is proven that socialization molds most parts of one’s behavior. Of the three explanations of biology, psychology and sociology, it is widely proved that socialization is the main determinant of human behavior.