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nature versus nurture

Definition of Nature Versus Nurture

(noun) A debate between the influence of genetics (nature) and social environments (nurture) on the development of individual or group and which one is more dominant.

Nature Versus Nurture Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: na·ture ver·sus nur·ture

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /nAY-chuhr vUHR-suhz nUHR-chuhr/
  • British English – /nAY-chuh vUHR-suhs nUHR-chuh/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈneɪʧər ˈvɜrsəs ˈnɜrʧər/
  • British English – /ˈneɪʧə ˈvɜːsəs ˈnɜːʧə/

Usage Notes

  • An oft debated topic in the social sciences is whether nature or nurture exerts more control on an individual or society.
  • The story of David Reimer, also known as the David/Brenda case study or the John/Joan case study, is an important one for theories of nature vs. nurture. David was born male and as an infant his penis was destroyed in a botched circumcision. Medical and Psychological intervention ensued which saw David renamed Brenda and raised as a girl. He failed to identify as a girl and transitioned back to male status as a teenager. He lived and functioned as a male before committing suicide in 2004, aged 38. This case study portrays different views on what constitutes gender, identity and sexuality and the problems each school of thought faces in their arguments and the consequences of belief and action following those arguments.
  • In some cultures, intersexed infants are seen as normal, sometimes special, beings, and these views run counter to those found in industrialized or Western societies, which see such bodies as abnormal and in need of correction.
  • Variant spellings:
    • nature-nurture
    • nature v nurture
    • nature vs nurture
  • Also called: nature-nurture debate

Related Quotations

  • “Biological models for understanding human behavior rely on the idea that innate biological differences between males and females ‘program’ distinct social behaviors for men and women. This is called biological determinism. Socially based frameworks, such as those coming from the fields of cultural anthropology or sociology, look at variations in behaviors and gender attributes. These approaches highlight the socialization process that teaches boys and girls to live up to the expectations for their respective genders. Either approach on its own—biology or socialization, nature or nurture—is inadequate for explaining complex human beings and why we do what we do” (Tarrant 2009:67).
  • Feminism explicitly examines women’s roles and experiences in society, working to fully uncover women’s contributions to social life and the nature of the structures and processes that maintain gender inequality” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
  • “The source of much of the heat in the incest debate is the friction incident on rubbing two very different views of human nature against the same problem. The conventionalist view is that human beings are born with a few ‘basic drives,’ all of which are asocial if not antisocial and some of which are so dangerous they must be constrained. The rest of what humans are, and the larger part by far, is learned and thus varies from society to society—a view that is commonly taken to mean that utopia or something like it is possible. Constitutionalists, in contrast, are committed to the view that while human beings are far from complete at birth, they typically develop along lines laid out by an innate plan. The variation touted by conventionalists is largely ephemeral if not the result of distortion occasioned by abnormal circumstances. Most constitutionalists argue that if we were really as pliable as conventionalists claim, we would all be slaves molded to serve one master or another. Where conventionalists, optimistic on principle, pit their hope for the future on a pliable human nature, constitutionalists, typically pessimistic, allay their fears for the future by holding fast to the view that human nature is stubborn” (Wolf 2014:4).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Wolf, Arthur P. 2014. Incest Avoidance and the Incest Taboos: Two Aspects of Human Nature. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs.

Works Consulted

Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. 2010. The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology. 2nd ed. New York: Norton.

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Ravelli, Bruce, and Michelle Webber. 2016. Exploring Sociology: A Canadian Perspective. 3rd ed. Toronto: Pearson.

Thompson, William E., and Joseph V. Hickey. 2012. Society in Focus: An Introduction to Sociology. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Tischler, Henry L. 2011. Introduction to Sociology. 10th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Nature Versus Nurture

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “nature versus nurture.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 18, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/nature-versus-nurture/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

nature versus nurture. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/nature-versus-nurture/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “nature versus nurture.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/nature-versus-nurture/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“nature versus nurture.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 18 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/nature-versus-nurture/>.