The Debate on Nature vs. Nurture in Mental Health (2023)

The debate on nature vs. nurture has been ongoing for many years now. Many questions have been asked in the cultural, scientific, philosophical, and mental health fields. Are behavior, personality, and mental health a nature or a nurture thing?

Nature is defined as genetics, hormones, and traits that affect human behavior, physical appearance, and even diseases. Nurture is defined as environmental factors, childhood experiences, social relationships, upbringing, culture, and experiences that influence a person. In this article, you will learn if mental health is influenced by nature or nurture.

Nature vs. Nurture Debate in Mental Health

Here’s a fact about the nature or nurture debate: Twin studies and research show that human traits, personality, and diseases are seen to be influenced by nature for 49%, while 51% result from individual upbringing.

Personality

One of the debates on nature or nurture is personality. How do children develop their personalities? How did you develop your personality? Does genetics solely influence personality, or is it a learned trait through environmental factors?

Children act the way their parents do because of their influence. Personality is learned through what a child witnesses in their parent’s actions. That’s why parents are seen as their children’s role models.

Personality is learned, not genetically passed on. Thus, it is something that is nurtured.

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Sexual Orientation

Another most debated topic in the nature or nurture issue is homosexuality. A poll was conducted in Washington DC on homosexuals about the reason they chose their sexual orientation, whether it is nature or nurture. The poll has gathered these data:

  • Fifty percent of homosexual adults said that nature has to do with their sexual orientation.
  • Thirty percent of the respondents attest that their sexual orientation is attributed to their upbringing and environmental influences.
  • Ten percent said both nature and nurture influence this.
  • Six percent said they were unsure.
  • Four percent stated that homosexuality is caused by something else.

So which is which? Some studies show that homosexuality is largely attributed to nature. With the poll results shown above, the debate still continues.

Mental Disorders

Nature plays a big role in the development of mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. However, genetics is not solely responsible for this. Mental disorders are a result of both genetic and environment-related factors.

There is no genetic switch that can flip the development of a mental disorder, but genes can have an influence. However, childhood experiences or traumatic events can flip a switch for mental disorders. For example, a person can experience anxiety even if no family member has the condition.

How Nature (Genes) Affects Mental Wellness

The big question is how genetics affect mental health. Nature is an important factor in the development of mental conditions. Scientists have proven that psychiatric disorders run in families and suggest potential roots. That is why doctors ask patients with a family history of mental health conditions to help them diagnose their patients properly.

Studies show the association of biological factors that affect the development of mental health disorders:

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  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and major depressive disorder are 20–45% inherited.
  • Anorexia nervosa and alcohol dependence are 50–60% inherited.
  • Autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are 75% genetic.

As you can see, mental conditions are not 100% hereditary. It’s safe to say that mental health is influenced by both nature and nurture.

How Nurture (Upbringing) Affects Mental Health

Nurture, which encompasses upbringing, environment-related influences, experiences, and relationships, also plays a big part in a person’s mental health. For instance, why does a person drink so much? Probably to cover up painful experiences, which has led them to substance abuse.

How can a person develop depressive disorders? This can be due to an accumulation of problems and a lack of coping skills. Why does a person develop post-traumatic stress disorder? Probably because they had a traumatic experience like a car accident or witnessing a crime.

The family history of mental health disorders is only the second strongest link to the development of such illnesses. Life events and experiences will always remain the strongest links to mental illness. These include domestic violence, abuse, childhood bullying, traumatic events, and many more.

Nature and Nurture: Is There a Connection?

Nature and nurture are inseparable; they always go together. In mental health, nature affects nurture, while nurture cannot affect nature.

What’s born in us through genetics cannot be changed. Our DNA and genetics cannot be changed per se. This is a given fact. With nurture, however, there are factors that can be changed.

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Even if you had a family member with depression, this does not mean you can develop depression, too. This will all depend on your life experiences or how you cope with them.

You may not be able to change your DNA, but you can take control of certain circumstances in your life. For instance, hereditary genes that cause mental disorders will not be activated if not triggered by environment-related factors.

Is Mental Illness a Nature vs. Nurture Thing?

As mentioned, mental illness can be triggered by the environment or what happens outside a person (nurture). Genetics (nature) only comes after nurture. In simple terms, it’s more of a nurture and nature thing rather than nature vs. nurture (i.e., one or the other), as both play a role in the development of mental disorders.

The causes of mental disorders are complicated, and the explanation behind the risk factors is complex. Researchers suggest that there is an interaction between genetics and a person’s environment, not only in the area of mental health.

Nurture-Based Risk Factors

There are many reasons why a person may experience mental health issues, and nurture is a significant contributor. Anyone bombarded with difficulties in life can reach a breaking point. The nurture part of mental health illness or the environmental factors that may lead to mental health problems are:

  • Trauma. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood may lead to an increased chance of developing a mental illness.
  • Stressful home environment. This includes parents fighting all the time, divorced parents, or unhealthy home relationships.
  • Emotional disturbance. Bullying experiences in youth, peer pressure, and having no friends or emotional support growing up can be detrimental to a person’s mental well-being.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol or substance abuse during the teenage or adult years can lead to mental health issues.
  • Traumatic life experiences. Examples are the death of a loved one, financial constraints, unemployment issues, accidents, or war.

Nature-Based Risk Factors

The genetic factors that can contribute to mental illness are:

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  • Epigenetic regulation. Epigenetic regulation can affect how a person can react to environment-related factors that may or may not influence the development of a mental disorder. Epigenetics may switch genes on or off. The combination of environment-related influences and epigenetic regulation can cause mental disorders to develop.
  • Genetic polymorphisms. Individual DNA makeup is what makes us all unique, as this accounts for our differences. Genetic polymorphism alone cannot lead to the development of a mental disorder. It is the combination of genetic polymorphism and environmental influences that can lead to the development of a mental disorder.

Nature vs. Nurture in Therapy

Counselors may employ two approaches in treating patients: nature-based or nurture-based therapy. For instance, the nature-based approach seeks answers to address mental problems on a genetic or biological level. On the contrary, the nurture-based approach will address a person’s beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. In most cases, therapy combines both nature and nurture-based approaches.

Medications that treat mental health issues are considered a nature-based approach. Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications are meant to deal with chemical imbalances that cause a mental illness. The chemicals inside the brain are a part of nature, as they occur naturally inside the body.

For the nurture part, talk therapy is used to address a person’s emotions related to one’s upbringing and experiences. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the nature and nurture approaches are used, along with other considerable factors.

Do You Have More Questions?

If you have more questions or are concerned if your mental wellness problem is nature- or nurture-based, you can talk to a therapist about this. No one can give you a professional insight better than a licensed mental health practitioner. If you’re from Kentucky or Ohio and want someone to talk to, the therapists and counselors at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) can help you understand the origins of your issues.

Included in KCC’s services are:

  • Anxiety counseling
  • Depression counseling
  • Adult counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Teen counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Adolescent counseling
  • LGBTQ counseling
  • Couples counseling
  • Group counseling

KCC offers online telehealth counseling services via online appointments. Now you can easily access counseling or therapy online using your mobile phone, desktop, or tablet. Each KCC therapist, counselor, and psychiatrist is highly trained, professional, certified, and experienced in providing optimal mental health care for Kentucky and Ohio residents. Whether you’re having questions about your mental health or experiencing depression or anxiety, get in touch with Kentucky Counseling Center now. You can schedule an appointment now with KCC DIrect Services.

(Video) Nature, nurture and mental illness

FAQs

Is mental health impacted by nature or nurture? ›

Mental disorders are often caused by a combination of, and interaction between, genetic, psychological, biological, and environmental factors (1). The first 3 refer to the personal factors that influence mental health — the nature part. The latter refers to the contextual factors — the nurture part.

What is the nature vs. nurture debate in psychology? ›

The nature versus nurture debate involves the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited (i.e., genetic) or acquired (i.e., learned) influences.

What is nature vs. nurture how does it influence behavior and the mental process? ›

Nurture. The expression “nature vs. nurture” describes the question of how much a person's characteristics are formed by either “nature” or “nurture.” “Nature” means innate biological factors (namely genetics), while “nurture” can refer to upbringing or life experience more generally.

What is the main controversy between nature and nurture? ›

A traditional and long-standing disagreement over whether heredity or environment is more important in the development of living things, especially human beings.

How does nature impact mental health? ›

Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity and can facilitate concentration. Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health, particularly lower depression and anxiety.

Why is nurture important to mental health? ›

And experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control, while exposure to urban environments is linked to attention deficits (Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 28, No. 5, 2019).

Why is nature vs. nurture debate important? ›

Two decades of research make it increasingly clear that both nature and nurture always play a role—that is, the extent to which genetic factors affect behavior depends on the social environment in which people live, work, and play.

What is the general conclusion of the nature vs. nurture debate? ›

The conclusion that nature and nurture are complementary and work hand and hand to shape a behavior (a purposeful and meaningful activity) is not a compromise; it is a result of a vigorous study of each of the components of the equation of heredity and environment and their effects on determining one's development and ...

Does nature or nurture have a bigger impact on development? ›

Theme 1: Nurture is more influential than nature. Whether asked about influences on a baby adopted at birth, on their own lives, on an aggressive child or a violent young person, almost all respondents emphasised nurture.

Is depression caused by nature or nurture? ›

(Reuters Health) - - For the first time, researchers have found that the environment you're raised in is as important as your genes in determining risk for major depression.

Is anxiety disorder nature or nurture? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family.

What is better nature or nurture? ›

(PhysOrg.com) -- Nurture could have an even greater effect than originally thought, according to a University of Manchester study that is set to shake up the 'nature versus nurture' debate.

What is an example of nature nurture issue? ›

Nature advocates argue that genetics have a high impact on obesity and high blood pressure. Nurture proponents point to the poor eating habits that cause obesity and the limited ability to regulate personal habits that lead to high blood pressure.

When did nature vs. nurture debate begin? ›

This controversial debate has existed since 1869, when the phrase "Nature Versus Nurture" was coined by the English polymath, Francis Galton. Those who agree with the nature side argue that the DNA and genotype that we are born with determine who we are and what personality and traits we will have.

Who started the nature vs. nurture debate? ›

The phrase 'nature versus nurture' was first coined in the mid-1800s by the English Victorian polymath Francis Galton in discussion about the influence of heredity and environment on social advancement.

How are mental health and natural environment related? ›

Access to nature can have immensely positive effects on people's mental health, according to a growing body of evidence. Likewise, environmental degradation, including climate change and pollution, poses a serious threat to our emotional state and well-being.

How does nature affect the brain? ›

His research has found evidence that higher-order cognitive skills do improve with prolonged exposure to the outdoors. It is thought that being in nature activates the default mode network in the brain, which is normally engaged when we daydream or spend time in introspection.

Does being outside improve mental health? ›

There are many mental wellness benefits associated with being outside in green spaces, such as lower risk of depression and faster psychological stress recovery. Studies have shown that being in nature can restore and strengthen our mental capacities, increasing focus and attention.

Is schizophrenia caused by nature or nurture? ›

The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition. Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode.

Is mental illness genetic or environmental? ›

Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors: Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness.

Is bipolar disorder nature or nurture? ›

Bipolar disorder is frequently inherited, with genetic factors accounting for approximately 80% of the cause of the condition. Bipolar disorder is the most likely psychiatric disorder to be passed down from family. If one parent has bipolar disorder, there's a 10% chance that their child will develop the illness.

Why is the nature vs. nurture debate important in health and social care? ›

The nature/nurture debate focuses on whether an individual's behaviour and development are the result of genetic inheritance (biological factors) or environmental factors (upbringing and life experiences). Nature is the view that behaviour and human development is the product of biological factors.

Which is the most accurate conclusion that can be drawn in the nature nurture debate? ›

The correct answer is c. It is the interaction between heredity and environment that is important in determining who we become. The nature versus nurture debate is common debate when discussing human development.

How does nurture influence personality development? ›

Research has shown that one's genes and their environment are inextricably intertwined, suggesting that both nature and nurture are important. The interplay between a person's inherited temperament, which defines how they think, and their environment constantly reshapes personality.

How do nature and nurture work together? ›

The idea is that both nature and nurture affect behavior and personalities. Nature refers to the aspects of heredity and genes that are influenced and nurture refers to the way we are in an environment, how we are raised and treated and any experiences we may live through (Cherry, 2018).

Which nature or nurture contributes more to personality? ›

Overall, genetics has more influence than parents do on shaping our personality. Molecular genetics is the study of which genes are associated with which personality traits. The largely unknown environmental influences, known as the nonshared environmental effects, have the largest impact on personality.

How does nature and nurture affect cognitive development? ›

In the simplest term, nature provides the blueprint for our development. It sets the parameter of our cognitive development (e.g., maximum height). Nurture, on the other hand, provides stimuli that decide how our genes are expressed, or what genes are activated.

Which has the greatest effect on intelligence nature or nurture? ›

And it is likely that the genetics of intelligence works at least in part by a genetic influence on the environment. This means that a genetic basis for intelligence is as much about one's nurture as about one's nature. Intelligence is the most widely studied trait in behavioural genetics.

Is PTSD nature or nurture? ›

Although PTSD is triggered by an external event, studies show that an individual's genetics can make a person more predisposed to the illness. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that can occur after exposure to severely traumatic events, such as military combat or violent attacks.

What is nurture in psychology? ›

Nurture encompasses the environmental factors that impact who we are. This includes our early childhood experiences, the way we were raised, our social relationships, and the surrounding culture.

Is depression genetic or learned? ›

Causes. Depression is known to run in families, suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing this disease. However, research into the genetics of depression is in its early stages, and very little is known for certain about the genetic basis of the disease.

Can anxiety and depression be genetic? ›

In most cases, the younger the person is when they get anxiety or depression, the more likely it is to be hereditary. Anxiety and depression can still be genetic if they show up in your older family members. But often, new conditions in people that are over the age of 20 are linked to painful or stressful life events.

Is stress genetically inherited? ›

Some people are genetically predisposed to higher stress levels. While all of us feel stressed at some point or another, some people battle with stress more frequently. This boils down to genetics. Your genes produce proteins which dictate how your body functions.

Is overthinking genetic? ›

Knowing how to not overthink isn't an innate gift. It isn't genetic, or set in stone during your childhood. Many people who are able to control their emotions and avoid getting stuck in a spiral of overthinking and anxiety have developed these skills over time.

Why is nature so important? ›

Our forests, rivers, oceans and soils provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we irrigate our crops with. We also rely on them for numerous other goods and services we depend on for our health, happiness and prosperity. These natural assets are often called the world's 'natural capital'.

What did Charles Darwin say about nature vs. nurture? ›

Charles Darwin

The implication of this work was that man evolved from primates. This theory of evolution caused a controversy of it's own. However, what was most important to the Nature versus Nurture debate was the idea that species such as ours could change over time. The theory of evolution was not new in 1859.

Who is the father of nature vs. nurture? ›

The “nature versus nurture” dichotomy is gradually being replaced by a realization that both are essential and inextricably intertwined. Francis Galton (1822-1911), a cousin of Charles Darwin, is credited with first envisioning a science of nature versus nurture.

Did Freud believe in nature or nurture? ›

The Psychodynamic approach takes into account both sides of the Nature/Nurture debate. Freud claimed that adult personality is the product of innate drives- i.e., natural motivations or urges we are born with- and childhood experiences- i.e., the way we are raised and nurtured.

How old is the debate of nature vs. nurture? ›

The ancient Greek philosopher Galen postulated that personality traits were driven by the relative concentrations of four bodily fluids or “humours.” In 1874, Sir Francis Galton published “English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture,” in which he advanced his ideas about the dominance of hereditary factors in ...

What percentage is nature vs. nurture? ›

In every study of its kind, the results are always the same: 45 to 50 percent of your personality is nature. … That is to say 45 to 50 percent of your personality is due to the genes that you inherited from your mother and your father.” The other 50 percent is not nurture by your parents.

Is depression due to nature or nurture? ›

Depression Develops When There is an Interaction Between a Person's Genetics and Environment. A combination of risk factors that includes both one's environment (nurture) and genes (nature) is necessary for someone to develop depression–one is not more important than the other.

Is depression influenced by nature or nurture? ›

(Reuters Health) - - For the first time, researchers have found that the environment you're raised in is as important as your genes in determining risk for major depression.

Is depression and anxiety nature or nurture? ›

The answer remains “yes”: depression is nature and nurture, and the relative proportions, for which types of depression, are under study. In the meantime, there are actions to take that will improve both medical and psychiatric health.

Is anxiety caused by nature or nurture? ›

Most researchers conclude that anxiety is genetic but can also be influenced by environmental factors. In other words, it's possible to have anxiety without it running in your family. There is a lot about the link between genes and anxiety disorders that we don't understand, and more research is needed.

Is bipolar disorder nature or nurture? ›

Bipolar disorder is frequently inherited, with genetic factors accounting for approximately 80% of the cause of the condition. Bipolar disorder is the most likely psychiatric disorder to be passed down from family. If one parent has bipolar disorder, there's a 10% chance that their child will develop the illness.

Is schizophrenia caused by nature or nurture? ›

The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition. Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode.

Is PTSD nature or nurture? ›

Although PTSD is triggered by an external event, studies show that an individual's genetics can make a person more predisposed to the illness. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that can occur after exposure to severely traumatic events, such as military combat or violent attacks.

Is mental illness genetic or environmental? ›

Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors: Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness.

How much of mental illness is genetic? ›

Overall, the researchers found that common genetic variation accounted for between 17-28% of risk of all five disorders.

What are some examples of nature Vs nurture? ›

Nature proponents believe that homosexuality is genetic or outside of a person's control. Nurture proponents believe that homosexuality is a choice or a behavior influenced by environmental factors. A person's ability to perform in a certain occupation also leads to a nature versus nurture debate.

Which is better nature or nurture? ›

Most experts recognize that neither nature nor nurture is stronger than the other. Instead, both factors play a critical role in who we are and who we become.5 Not only that but nature and nurture interact with each other in important ways all throughout our lifespan.

Is depression biological or environmental? ›

Scientists believe that as many as 40 percent of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental and other factors may make up the other 60 percent.

What percentage is nature Vs nurture? ›

In every study of its kind, the results are always the same: 45 to 50 percent of your personality is nature. … That is to say 45 to 50 percent of your personality is due to the genes that you inherited from your mother and your father.” The other 50 percent is not nurture by your parents.

Is overthinking genetic? ›

Knowing how to not overthink isn't an innate gift. It isn't genetic, or set in stone during your childhood. Many people who are able to control their emotions and avoid getting stuck in a spiral of overthinking and anxiety have developed these skills over time.

Can anxiety be passed from mother to child? ›

Results showed strong support of environmental transmission of anxiety from parent to child, independent of genetics. In essence, this study showed that anxious behaviors can be learned and that a child's anxious behavior can also increase the anxious behavior of the parent.

Is stress genetically inherited? ›

Some people are genetically predisposed to higher stress levels. While all of us feel stressed at some point or another, some people battle with stress more frequently. This boils down to genetics. Your genes produce proteins which dictate how your body functions.

Videos

1. Nature vs Nurture - How You Were Raised Determines Your Mental Health as an Adult
(Autumn Asphodel)
2. Michael Meaney on Nature vs. Nurture
(McGill University)
3. Anxiety: Nature vs. Nurture
(Wisemind)
4. A-Level Psychology (AQA): Issues and Debates - Nature vs Nurture
(SMCartledge)
5. Revision Webinar: Nature v Nurture Debate
(tutor2u)
6. Epigenetics: Nature vs nurture
(Det medisinske fakultet - Universitetet i Oslo)
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