31 July 2011

Nature VS Nurture

           Human behaviour is an integral part of our daily life. Yet, most of us do not understand why people do what they do or how behaviour come into existence. In the view of social scientists, behaviour is a product of three major forces – biology, psychology and social stimulus. Now, we will look at just how deep these stimuli affect our behaviour.

            From a biologist’s perspective, everything we are and do are results of how we were programmed to act biologically. This pre-installed programme is what we refer to as the exact likeliness to the blueprints of a building except that it lays the foundation for human behaviour not a house. The blueprints embedded in our genetic make-up determine what we will become, how we would look, our pattern of growth as well as how we behave.

            Tiger and Fox claimed that biogrammar is the main reason man are ‘aggressive and masculine’ while women are ‘caring and feminine’. In 1971, Goy and Phoenix experimented with rhesus monkeys to prove their theory. They claim (in accordance to the results of their experiment) that female monkeys given extra androgens (hormones taken from male monkeys) display rougher attitude. The opposite observation was made when male monkeys were injected with progesterone and oestrogen. The males become more submissive and less aggressive.

            Logically, it is quite plausible to say that we were created prior to being born into this world. However, this argument has a downside to it. First of all, if genetic information is the key to our behaviour and if let’s say every individual with the same genetic contents will act in a similar pattern, how do you answer for identical twins that grow up so differently? What of individuals brought up in a criminal family (with the assumption he or she inherits criminal genes) that turn into decent, law-abiding citizens? These are just two of many questions that cannot be answered by biologists.

            Next, we take a look at the psychological argument of this debate. Psychologists have taken a somewhat safer side in their argument. They say that yes, biological identity do have a say in how we behave but it does not encompass the entire reality. They added that while biology lays the foundation, it is society that shapes the output of human behaviour.

            To prove their arguments, psychologists investigated the occurrence of crime in society. They came up with a very interesting find. Among these findings is the higher probability to perform criminal acts when individuals come from a criminally active family or lineage. They also gathered statistics of crime in relation to climate. Amazingly, warmer climates are accompanied with higher crime rates. On further investigation, they found out that warmer surroundings mean higher production of aggression related hormones such as epinephrine and testosterone.

            However, higher proneness to crime does not necessarily mean you have a guaranteed place in jails and lower probability also do not indicate that you will never turn over to the dark side. Other factors – economic stability, lack of faith, family support, peer groups, love, exposure to violence etc – also come into account. In fact, these social factors play a bigger part in determining the outcome.  In other words, psychologists tend to lean more into the third side of the debate, the sociologists’ perspective.

            To sociologists, human behaviour is shaped by social forces alone.  They do not neglect the fact that biological programming is important but they argued that its contribution in shaping behaviour is minute in comparison to social forces. One important observation was made by Albert Bandura. He experimented on children exposed to different situations. Both children were exposed to a model. The model (a woman) was to exhibit two different actions on the same doll in front of the two subjects separately. Both children were then let in the room with the doll while an observer looks on through a one-way looking glass panel. The results were immediate.

            The boy exposed to aggressive model tends to be more dangerous in his behaviour. He kicked, punched and did the doll with similar actions as shown by the model. Sometimes, he went overboard and did far worse than was initially illustrated by the model. He also started making use of aggressive words. On the contrary, the other child showed no such behaviour. This proves that the role learning theory applies to human beings especially children. Children see, children do.

            Sociologists also explain human behaviour by stressing the importance of socialisation. Socialisation is the life-long process of learning a society’s norms and values and adapting oneself into the particular society. Divided into two stages – primary and secondary – this process is what has shaped you and me into what we are today. Primary socialisation happens in childhood. Children emulate what they see, hear, and understand from their surroundings. This process is clearly shown in A. Bandura’s experiment aforementioned.

            Functionalists see individual behaviour as a product of society as a whole. In their eyes, society has a need to maintain social order. To attain this goal, society creates roles that are played by individuals in the society. This, in turn, establishes the norms of a society and the norms ensure individual behaviour is standardised and do not deviate from the general expectation of the public. In this view, they are saying that people behave because the society as a whole is governing each individual’s behaviour. When and if deviance occurs, society will correct itself and social order will then be restored.

            Differently, interactionists see human behaviour as a product of how the individuals understand the society. According to George Herbert Mead, people will tend to act in ways that are consistent with the expected behaviour in a particular role. Doctors understand that they should value life and therefore doctors try to heal, parents understand that they must keep food on the table and so they do not let their children starve, teachers understand their roles in society and they teach.

            When humans do not understand or understand the society differently is when they would act differently. Children deprived of social interaction with human beings become less human or show no human emotion at all. This is particularly true for feral children. Oxana Malaya, an 8-year-old child was cared by stray dogs. This was reflected clearly in her dog-like behaviour. She could not speak and relate to human emotions, walked on all-fours, sniffed at her food and developed acute senses just like that of a dog. This shows that without socialisation, we would not be human in behaviour.

            Another strong point of argument came from Ann Oakley. She puts an emphasis on proving that gender roles were manmade and not subject to our biological sex. A prove of this came from an observation made by Margaret Mead. In her book Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, Mead said, “Among the Arapesh, both men and women were peaceful in temperament and neither men nor women made war. Among the Mundugumor, the opposite was true: both men and women were warlike in temperament. And the Tchambuli were different from both. The men spent time decorating themselves while the women worked and were the practical ones – the opposite of how it seemed in early 2oth century America.” Again, this showed that behaviour is not biologically programmed.

            Further merit on the sociologists’ view came from Ann Oakley’s criticism on Goy and Phoenix’s studies on rhesus monkeys. She pointed out that hormone levels did cause a shift in behaviour but the first piece of the puzzle was missing. What caused the hormone levels to change if the monkeys were not under human surveillance? The answer was simply social context. Ruth Bleier objects the use of monkeys altogether quoting it as dangerous to presume that the same conclusion can be applied to humans.

            All in all, humans have not come close to weeding out the one major cause for human behavioural patterns. However, it is safe to assume that all three factors play a role in shaping our behaviour albeit to what extent still lies in shadows. Personally, and based on scientific evidence, biology may have laid the basis of our actions, but it is the process of socialisation or rather the social forces that ultimately shape what we do.

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