Influence of Cultural Environment and Genes

Influence of Cultural Environment and Genes

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Influence of Cultural Environment and Genes

Summary of Both Sides of the Issue

The controversial debate over cultural environment and genetics in determining lifespan development has been in existence for several decades. The level of influence these two factors have on an individual is based on the amount of exposure to each element. It is, therefore, imperative to use research to arrive at a conclusion. Paul Ehrlich and Marcus Feldman were significant proponents of the belief that culture played the dominant role in shaping individual characteristics. Their assumption was that human behavior was very complicated and that genetic codes alone fail to explain human development (Ehrlich & Feldman, 2003).

The argument over which aspect has the greater influence on an individual’s development, however, has never been fully resolved. While some professionals believe that the cultural environment determines one’s lifespan development, an equal number of scholars argue against this view (Boyd & Bee, 2015). Their claims that cultural environment is the primary factor that influences the lifespan development of persons as opposed to their genetic background is valid, to an extent, for culture is a potent agent when compared to genetic influence that relies mainly on natural selection. Conversely, genes also play their role in determining the specific character traits attained by an individual. Rather than deciding the direction that development will take, genes work alongside the diverse environmental influences in influencing the outcomes. Hence, genetic transfer of DNA materialfrom parent to offspring is accompanied by a transfer of other qualities including character, it is believed. However, the accuracy of this transfer is still questionable as displayed by the limited literature on the subject.

                   How Findings Support the two Perspectives

A section of scholars including Plato and Descartes proposed that some fundamental aspects are innate despite environmental effects (Cherry, 2018). In other words, they occur naturally despite the different cultural environments that people encounter (Boyd & Bee, 2015). This school of thought argues that most aspects of human behavior are linked to inheritance. Proponents of this perspective also assume that these traits have evolved gradually. Consequently, genetic traits, inherited from parents, determine the specific differences that highlight the uniqueness of an individual – the complex coding of genes, in every cell, forms the different characteristics including the typical physical features such as skin pigmentation and eye color. However, there is insufficient data on the likelihood of transmitting other abstract attributes such as personality, sexual preferences, and mental ability into the DNA. One of the controversial debates against the nature argument is the possibility of a gene that inclines people towards homosexuality. This possibility attempts to explain the assumption that some people are born with a desire for or attraction to those of the same gender. However, from a sociological standpoint, children who have been exposed to homosexual experiences such as rape or same-sex parents have a higher likelihood of struggling with their sexuality. They also find it easier to identify themselves as homosexuals. In the larger cultural environment, every civilization has its own outlook concerning sexual relations. Therefore, in societies where there are liberal laws surrounding same-sex engagement, it is relatively easier for children to end up as homosexuals. Yet, at the very least, this tendency will be significantly higher when compared to conservative societies. Nonetheless, most of these theories on human behavior are yet to be confirmed because of the incongruent results from different studies.

The genetic explanations for different character traits are particularly vital in the current century. Several projects have made significant progress in separating specific behavior traits and allocating them to particular strands of DNA within the chromosomes. Scientific literature also indicates that research is on the verge of identifying genes that predispose an individual towards criminal activity, alcoholism, and homosexuality. In the event that these advances are progressive, it will be a massive step in comprehending the relationship between biology and the cultural setting (Boyd & Bee, 2015). However, human beings cannot truly understand the combination of these two factors since, in reality, the relationship is complex and challenging to understand.

On the other hand, proponents of the school of thought supporting the dominance of cultural environments also offer plausible arguments. Scholars such as John Locke proposed that human beings begin life while their minds are blank (“The Educationalists”). The concept of tabula rasa consequently allows children to shape different perceptions and attitudes based on the specific culture that they live in. According to this notion, the essence of an individual, as well as his knowledge, is influenced by daily experiences in the different cultures (Boyd & Bee, 2015). In contrast, Ehrlich and Feldman (2007) postulate that genetic and environmental contributions to human behavior cannot and should not be separated because an individual’s genetic behavior is certainly influenced by the environment. They also maintain that genes do not control as many aspects of an individual’s behavior as the nativists believe. Nevertheless, a focus on cultural influences is mostly empirical in nature. This theory argues that behaviors and traits are acquired through learning; therefore, behaviorism can aptly explain the way in which human beings acquire new habits and trends through repetitive contact with the environment. The advanced sections of this school of thought also believe in conditioning, as a dominant force, that can change people within a controlled environment. Proponents of this notion, therefore, argue that all human beings could be conditioned to do anything, despite their genetic background. However, in discussing issues concerning the role played by the cultural environment in individual development, it is imperative to identify the apparent as well as the subliminal aspects that come into play. Within the immediate environment, a single person is influenced by many elements including his parents, peers and as well as media, fashion and socio-economic conditions. Therefore, even in the presence of specific genes, it ultimately boils down to the areas that have been strengthened by the cultural environment. Renowned psychologist, Skinner, conducted several experiments that resulted in wild animals that could dance and do other human tasks. His progress in behavioral science allowed Skinner to prove that human beings could be conditioned to take on new behavior or even abandon previously learned ones. The scenario presents a strong case for the role played by the cultural environment in determining an individual’s characteristics. The outcomes of these subsequent studies dismissed the assumption that genetics was a principal factor. Skinner also offered the example that identical twins did not show the same behavior when reared in different settings. The assertion is regardless of the fact that they share the same genes. The issue with this line of thought is the assumption that all behavior can be accounted for by experience alone.

Nonetheless, in the process of arguing for either side, it is equally important to accept that both explanations can be partially true. In other words, both the cultural environment and one’s genetic composition can provide a satisfactory explanation for an individual’s behavior. This belief is supported by the epigenetics model where the argument is that both genetic and extragenetic factors account for human development. However, the epigenetic model goes beyond stating that they both contribute to human development and argue that there is an interaction between nature and nurture. In short, they affect each other in the developmental process. The challenge, however, is to determine the extent of the interaction (Witherington & Lickliter, 2017). Joining her voice to the debate, also, is Kendra Cherry (2018) who sums up the two positions by contending that nativists assert that inheritance plays a greater role in the developmental act while empiricists argue that human behavior result from learning or conditioning. She further contends that while it is believed that genetics account for human beings’ eye, hair and skin color, the hypothesis is that life expectancy and height can be attributed to both biological and environmental factors. However, developmental scientists are undecided about whether it is one’s genes or one’s exposure to a rich environment that contributes to individuals’ academic success. Thus, the gene-environment topic becomes sufficiently complicated when all the other considerations are included. Not surprisingly, several scholars have suggested that children can change their biological progress by reacting to the nurturing environment they experience during their early years (Boyd & Bee, 2015). However, most parents fail to acknowledge fully the influence that they have on their child’s development. Research has already proven that genetics has an impact on the child, particularly on their talent for different activities such as sports and music, and language – Chomsky calls a child’s mental capacity to learn language, the Language Acquisition Device (Cherry, 2018). However, the nurturing determines their propensity to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ (Cherry, 2018) and their potential in future, especially their level of success, as children lack the ability to make their own decisions, and they will copy the tendencies of the people within the society (Boyd & Bee, 2015). This conclusion is the source of divergence among scientists concerning the more influential factor. Consequently, further studies in the field of human development should focus on uniting the implications of cultural environments and biology rather than treating them as two separate entities. Human beings have evolved into a complex state as a consequence of the integration of these two elements and, therefore, perceiving them as working in unison offers the best possibility of understanding human development.


The conclusion of most studies has revealed that both nature and nurture influence individual behavior. After the analysis, it is evident that the cultural environment has a major effect on individual behavior when compared to the biological factors. Human beings react to the immediate environment in which they live and, therefore, the cultural setting will shape their preferences, character, and other unique features. Nurturing by itself is a powerful force of change that influences many individuals. A significant part of every person’s life is spent at home being nurtured by parents and guardians. The previous sections of the research offer sufficient evidence that the cultural environment is the strongest force that influences lifespan development.

However, the studies fail to answer the questions and fill the empirical gap concerning the different issues such as homosexuality and intelligence issues. While a significant percentage of people still believe in the nativist approach, scholars and experts have already embraced the fact that biology alone cannot be responsible for human development and behavior. Thus, an increasing percentage of people have started questioning the validity of relying on one factor in determining particular traits. This new perception towards human development proposes that numerous factors work together in contributing towards the growth of a person. These influences include genetic and cultural factors that integrate with a flawless fashion. The focus of research has shifted to how the two factors affect each and the consequences of the new interactions.


Boyd, D. R., & Bee, H. L. (2015). Lifespan development. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Cherry, K. (2018). What is nature vs. nurture? Very Well Mind. Retrieved from

Ehrlich, P., & Feldman, M. (2003). Genes and culture: What creates our behavioral phenome?

           Current Anthropology, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 87 – 107. Retrieved from

The Educationalists (n.d.). Retrieved from

Witherington, D. C., & Lickliter, R. (2017). Transcending the nature-nurture debate through Epigenetics: Are we there yet? Human Development, pp. 65-68. DOI:10.1159/000478796.

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