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Study notes

Issues & Debates: The Influence of Nurture

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, OCR

Nurture is the view that behaviour is the product of environmental influences. 

The environment is seen as everything outside the body which can include people, events and the physical world. Environmentalists (also known as empiricists) hold the assumption that the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience. This view was first proposed by John Locke in the 17th Century and was later taken up by behavioural psychologists. For example, John Watson (1913) famously wrote:

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

According to environmentalists, psychological characteristics and behavioural differences that emerge through infancy and childhood are the result of learning.

For example, behavioural psychologists explain attachment in terms of classical conditioning, where food (unconditioned stimulus) is associated with the mother (neutral stimulus), and through many repeated pairings, the mother becomes a conditioned stimulus who elicits a conditioned response in the child. Therefore, the child forms an attachment based on the pleasure experienced as a result of being fed.

Bandura argued that aggression is learned through observation, vicarious reinforcement and imitation, and is therefore explained by Social Learning Theory. However, he did acknowledge that the urge to behave aggressively might be biological, which suggests a more interactional approach.

Environmental explanations can also partly explain the occurrence of schizophrenia. Batson et al. (1956) proposed the Double Bind Theory which suggests that schizophrenia is the result of disordered communication within the family, where one. This is where one instruction is given overtly to a child (e.g. a mother says ‘come to me’) while another instruction is given covertly (e.g. the mother’s manner and tone of voice are rejecting). Prolonged exposure to such interactions prevents the development of a coherent construction of reality, and in the long run, this manifests itself as schizophrenic symptoms.

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