Friday, October 24, 2014

Lewontin prompt 2

Meaghan Duffy
English Comp.
Dr. Adam Johns

Nature v. Nurture

The argument of nature verses nurture has been an open debate in the psychology field for over a century.  Is the development of an individual more affected by the genes that make up his or her physical being or the environment in which he or she was raised and grew up in?  “As evolutionary theory has developed over the last one hundred years and become technologically and scientifically sophisticated,… the evolutionary view of human nature has developed a modern, scientific-sounding apparatus that makes it seem every bit as unchangeable as the theories of divine providence seemed in an earlier age (Lewontin, 89).” 

As time progresses and technology continues to innovate and advance, the argument for nature being the overwhelming component when it comes to human development has become much stronger.  “Evidence hashing out the biology behind the theory and supporting its validity began pouring in about five years ago, once the technology for parsing genetic data was more widely available to researchers (Rockoff).”  Recent studies have given results proving that an individual’s sensitivity to the environment in which he or she resides is positively correlated to the genetics of his or her nervous system.  To prove this, “scientists point to a type they call orchids- people who wit under poor conditions but flourish in supportive climes (Rockoff).”  In contrast to orchids, exists dandelions who seem to be unaffected, or affected very little, by the environment which they are exposed to.  While nurture is still relevant when it comes to child development it has been further supported through studies rather recently that one’s specific gene sequencing is what causes one to react to nurture in a certain way.  It is said that dopamine, a neurotransmitter that creates a sense of pleasure within an individual, is what differentiates an orchid from a dandelion.  “Evidence suggests that people who produce less dopamine (the orchids) don’t learn as well from negative feedback or in a distracting environment, but do perform well in a warm but strict setting (Rockoff).”  To prove this, researcher Marinus Van I Jzendoorn swabbed the cheeks of one hundred fifty-seven at risk children for aggression and tested for a specific variation of DRD4 (dopamine- regulating gene.)  Half the children’s mothers consulted with a social worker on how to discipline their kids by being strict but still warm, while the other mothers were given absolutely no guidance on parenting skills.  Results showed that the mothers with guidance reported their children as being more open to the new parenting style and having less to very little behavioral problems following. 

Throughout Biology and Ideology, Lewontin continuously stresses the importance of nature when it comes to child development specifically.  He attributes everything social and political that happens in this world to people’s genes.  He says, “ we differ in fundamental abilities because of innate differences…those innate differences are biologically inherited, and…human nature guarantees the formation of a hierarchical society (Lewontin, 33).”  “The characteristics of society are seen as caused by the individual properties that its members have, and those properties, as we shall see, are said to derive from the members’ genes.  If human societies engage in war, that is because each individual in the society is aggressive (Lewontin, 93).”  Lewontin argues that without our specific genes we would all be completely different people emotionally, mentally and physically; our society would be entirely lacking the form it takes on today if we were all biologically wired differently.  The research Rockoff is referring to in his article directly supports Lewontin’s claims regarding the severe true importance of genes in human behavior.  When looking for supportive evidence, Lewontin turns to studies done on separated identical twins and children adopted at a young age.  It was proven prior that, “there is a premium on speed in IQ testing, and genes might have some influence on reaction times of general speed of central nervous processes (Lewontin, 34).”  He qualifies by discussing the fact that adopted children show to have similar IQ scores to their biological parents even though they weren’t raised by them. 

It is recognized in Lewontin’s work that human genes’ adapt from generation to generation based on what is necessary to survive in that particular environment.  “So the proportion of variation in a population as a consequence of variation in genes is not a fixed property but one that varies from environment to environment (Lewontin, 30).”  Specifically, in an environment where technology is constantly advancing and being used for everyday processes, genetic variation matters much less.  Here, the gap in abilities is less noticeable because mechanical gadgets make up for what the human is lacking.  Lewontin concludes by describing how literally dense our bodies are with genes that code for millions of different traits that make us who we are.  He makes sure to end his book stressing that there is still so much more that needs to be discovered about human nature that can only be tapped into with time and further advancements in scientific technology.    

Lewontin, R.C. Biology as Ideology. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Print.

Rockoff, Jonathan D. "Nature v. Nurture: New Science Stirs Debate." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014

1 comment:

  1. The danger at the beginning is that you're implying that Lewontin takes part in the nature vs nurture debate when, at least at the surface, he questions the validity of the debate and its terminology, because he believes that nature and nurture are not and never can be independent of one another.

    The second paragraph gives an account of interesting-sounding research, but you could give us a little more guidance about what you're doing with it. The orchid vs. dandelion distinction seems very interesting, but you lose me a little bit at the end - the fact that "mothers with guidance reported their children as being more open to the new parenting style and having less to very little behavioral problems following" doesn't seem to have any necessary relationship with any beliefs about human genetics - if anything, it seems to suggest that the parents of at-risk children can benefit from parenting advice, which is perhaps not a shocking result. What am I missing? (In a very Lewontian world, of course, that is all there is, and genetics are somehow smuggled into research that properly is about parenting advice...).

    You make serious errors in your third paragraph. "Lewontin argues that without our specific genes we would all be completely different people emotionally, mentally and physically; our society would be entirely lacking the form it takes on today if we were all biologically wired differently." That's basically untrue, with some footnotes. What you're doing is looking at passages where Lewontin is detailing and attacking the views of others in detail. That's an error which would have been more understandable if we hadn't been through lengthy discussion of Lewontin. Similarly, Lewontin is attacking the twin studies, not agreeing with them.

    Overall: At the core of this essay, you misunderstand everything about Lewontin. So, unsurprisingly, you have things roughly reversed re: his likely response to the essay. This is a case where it's hard to recover from a serious misreading, unfortunately - you need to have a better grasp of Lewotin to analyze the essay using him.


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