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A discussion of the worldviews that historically facilitated the “nature versus nurture” debate, and of how the nature/nurture issue is addressed in contemporary developmental psychology.

A discussion of the worldviews that historically facilitated the “nature versus nurture” debate, and of how the nature/nurture issue is addressed in contemporary developmental psychology.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Zara Blake. Originally submitted for Psychology at None, with lecturer Dr. Carol Murphy in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Zara Blake. Originally submitted for Psychology at None, with lecturer Dr. Carol Murphy in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
A discussion of the worldviews that historically facilitated the “nature versusnurture” debate, and of how the nature/nurture issue is addressed incontemporary developmental psychology.Abstract:
Throughout the history of developmental psychology, the issue of geneticinfluence versus environmental influence in human development has beencontroversial. This essay puts the age-old debate into the context of the worldviewsthat facilitated its existence, organisism and mechanisism. The organisist argument isthat development is predominantly the result of genetic and biological factors (thenature side of the debate). From this perspective, human development is consideredgenetically prewired. Organisist theorists viewed the individual as an active being in a passive environment. The opposing mechanisist argument is that development is predominantly predetermined by environmental factors. Supporters of mechanisismconsidered the individual internally passive, in an active environment. The heart of the mechanist worldview is the metaphor of the machine, depending on what input themachine receives, the output will be different. These conflicting extreme worldviewsaccount for the dichotomous structure the nature/nurture debate held for many years.This dichotomous structure is no longer valued in contemporary developmental psychology. Anastasi’s (1958) influential paper argued that nature and nurture weretoo intertwined to separate out in any meaningful way and, thus, asking which wasmore influential was inappropriate. Instead, she proposed a more apt question would be “how”, i.e. how these interacting factors influence development. This idea markedthe beginning of a change of perspective in the developmental psychologycommunity. Contemporary developmental psychology has moved away from the
 
organisist and mechanisist worldviews in favour of contextualism. The contemporary perspective involves a contextual, dynamic, inter-relational and multi-level approachto the issue. In continuation, this essay engages in a discussion of the research that isemerging in support of such an approach. Contemporary research is shedding light onthe various complex ways the two factors (genetics and environment) interact todetermine developmental outcomes. In conclusion, contemporary psychology hasabandoned the historical dichotomous perspective on the nature/nuture issue, insteadaccepting the relationship between the two factors as being complex and interactive.Today, researchers are asking questions that reflect this, which is a change that may prove to be a good thing as regards the advancement of applied developmental psychology.2
 
Introduction
Historically, the genetic-environmental question has been the subject of muchcontroversy, with psychologists putting a lot of effort into trying to decide
which
determines development. Today, conversely, most psychologists look upon this as adead issue and a moot point. It is now generally accepted that both hereditary andenvironmental factors enter into all behaviour and that the notion of separating themout is simply not feasible or appropriate. The genetic versus environmental influencecontroversy has traditionally come down to a clash between two world views;organisism and mechanisism, but today more complex views, such as contextualism,are generally adopted by psychologists in order to account for the complexity of theissue and the interaction of genetic influences and environmental influences.
The role of worldviews
The simplest description of the organisist argument is that development is predominantly the result of genetic and biological factors, that it is qualitative,unidirectional and irreversible. According to this view, a developmental psychologistshould view an individual as the source of their acts, with all the determinants of their development being a product of hereditary factors, i.e. their development isgenetically prewired (Kantowitz et al., 2009). The changes that happen as anindividual develops, from this standpoint, are assumed to be directed toward an end point. This approach essentially sees the individual being active in their development,and the environment as being relatively passive. This general stance was taken inessays by Scarr (1992), Lytton (1990), and Harris (1995, 1998) who claimed that theenvironment accounts for little as regards its influence on human behaviour.Agreement with this view has implications for applied psychology as it provides substantiatiation for argument that public and private resources should be3

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