Nature Versus Nurture


Nature Versus Nurture

As previously mentioned in a few posts, for the past few years, I have enrolled in a number of night classes as a means of attaining the qualifications I failed to attain in high school. Mostly the subjects I have picked have been very practically related to my further development, subjects such as maths and english, which are integral to undertaking further study. But I also chose subjects which I felt would interest me, and one higher which was of particular interest was psychology.

I really enjoyed the subject matter, looking at different aspects of behaviour and development gave me a great insight into the way in which humans learn and grow. Some of this I found I could directly apply to my roles both in care and in education. The other aspect of this course which I found incredibly useful was the transferable nature of the course content. When I began to study Higher English, I was surprised to realise just how free the course was to a student’s personal experience.

As part of the course a writing portfolio had to be created, I’ve already posted the the creative piece, which I submitted to the SQA, and so I felt that to further share my experiences of the last couple of years, it would perhaps be of interest to see the contrasting discursive writing piece. I was tasked with writing an essay which looked at both sides of an opposing argument. As I had spent a whole year studying psychology the year before and the knowledge was fresh in my head, I felt that focusing this essay on the nature versus nurture debate, would be a great topic to discuss.

My prime example throughout the essay is that of the condition Anorexia Nervosa, and how it can be affected by both aspects of the nature versus nurture debate. Thankfully I have never experienced the extremes of this particular condition personally, although I have experienced a lesser degree of body dysmorphia throughout my life, and can empathise greatly with those who push their bodies to an extreme to attain an unattainable physique. My own personal experiences though, pale in comparison to some of the more serious cases, so if you do read this please bear in mind that this is a portfolio piece written independently by a student and not a to be taken as anything other than a personal insight into a vast, vast topic. As the essay had to be capped at 1200 words, there was a lot of content which I had to leave out and so this is a very concise introduction to a fascination, yet powerful topic.

The facts which I cite are to the best of my knowledge truth, but if you happen to know otherwise, please don’t hesitate to correct me. I have added the references which I used to write this piece, but bear in mind that this was written over a year ago and facts have a tendency to be updated.

Lastly, if you or anyone you know is affected by this condition, I would urge you to seek further advice on the matter. By just being yourself, the way that you are you can do anything you put your mind to, don’t force yourself to be something you are not. Live life safely and happily to the best of your ability, and I’ll try for my part to do the same.


Within the field of psychology, no debate has had greater impact, than that of the ‘Nature versus Nurture’ debate. The debate itself arose naturally with the development of psychology as a science. The two sides in this debate are Nativists, who believe that behaviour is genetically inherited and Empiricists, who believe that infants are born a blank slate and that behaviour is learned from birth onwards, through experience and social learning.

No one side of this debate has ever been proved conclusively correct, instead as the science of psychology has developed, the preferred stance has swung, much like a pendulum, from one side to another, depending on which model of psychology is most preferable at the time. The biological approach, explains behaviour as being an innate part of each person, and believes that all deviances from ‘normal’ behaviour are a result of neurochemical imbalances, which can be treated medically. Alternatively behaviourists such as Bandura, set to prove that behaviour is learned through observation and repetition. Bandura’s “Bobo doll” experiment shows a positive correlation between witnessing aggressive behaviour and emulating that same behaviour afterwards.

The reason this debate has been so prevalent, is due in part to each side being able to explain specific conditions or behaviours by using their own approaches to psychology. Take for example the condition anorexia nervosa, a life threatening condition, which causes patients to become obsessed with their body size. Psychologists from different fields explain and treat patients with Anorexia Nervosa differently, yet each field is able to justify doing so based on reasons discerned from their own research.

Nativists have support from researchers such as Strober et al. who found that first-degree relatives of Anorexia Nervosa patients are more likely to also develop the condition. This correlation is further supported by Holland et al. (1988) who developed a twin study finding that there is a significantly increased chance of identical twins both developing Anorexia Nervosa, than in non-identical twins. While this research clearly shows that there is a genetic link to the development of Anorexia Nervosa, empiricists have argued that the results of Holland et al.’s experiments can also be explained by the fact that identical twins have, in most cases, grown up together and so have shared the same environment, and experiences.

Other arguments in favour of the Empirical debate come from the work by researcher Hsu, whose study of women’s body shapes suggested that women from Western industrialised societies were typically more likely to develop Anorexia Nervosa, than counterparts of the same age in non-industrialised society, whose body shapes reflected their life style and were typically rounder in body shape, as fit with their cultural norm. Empiricists have long suggested that Anorexia Nervosa is a cultural disorder, much more prevalent in Western society as women are subjected more often to unrealistic expectations of body size and shape due to exposure to photo shopped media representation and models with a perfect, yet unattainable form. Young girls especially aspire to look like idols they see in magazines, yet in actuality, the models and actresses they are trying to emulate do not look the way they are presented by the media. This argument was further supported by Dolan, whose study in 1991 found that white American women were eight times more likely to develop Anorexia Nervosa than counterparts of African American or Latin American women. This again would suggest a correlation between cultural norms and development of Anorexia Nervosa. However Dolan has been criticised, as women of different creeds have a different genetic make up, which may in turn explain why, white women are more likely to develop Anorexia Nervosa as it is genetically part of them.

While both arguments have held favour at one time or another, it is clear that the debate is far from over, each side believes that they can explain specific characteristics of behavioural disorders, but both sides can also be countered by the other. This has led to an on-going virulent debate, which has lasted for decades. Now however it would seem that the pendulum has come to rest in the middle of both camps, with the development of the Cognitive approach to psychology.

While the cognitive approach to psychology is still in it’s infancy compared to some of the more traditional approaches; it is fast becoming the standard on which all treatment is based. This is because it takes into consideration both sides of the argument and the treatments, which have been developed, based on this approach, encompass all of the elements, which can affect behaviour, not just the parts which can be explained.

Take for example a patient with Anorexia Nervosa, being treated under the Cognitive approach, depending on the severity of the disorder an Anorexia Nervosa patient may be prescribed SSRI’s, a type of anti-depressant, and referred to take part in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a time sensitive talking therapy, which asks patients to set themselves goals and meet specific weight gain targets, while also trying to discern the root causes of their emotional problems which may have led to the initial development of Anorexia Nervosa. Due to the damaging nature of Anorexia Nervosa, patients are not usually prescribed SSRI’s until they have started to gain weight; this is to prevent any further damage to their bodies. In more serious cases patients can be hospitalised and detained under the mental health act to prevent any further harm to the patient. This is a last resort and is only used if the patient is at serious risk of death. While detained a patient can be force fed, by the use of a nasogastric tube which delivers food directly to their stomach, this is a short term treatment, and patients are once again expected to eat themselves after this, but are again supported by a team of psychologists trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The cognitive approach believes in treating patients medically, before moving on to supporting patients through the use of talking therapies, in doing this they treat for both genetic and environmental causes.

The nature versus nurture debate has inspired a great many psychologist to develop innovative new treatments and experiments, and in so doing, furthering our understanding of human behaviour as a whole. While it is clear that this debate is far from over, we can look at both sides as having value, and we should continue to unify the ideas presented by both sides as a means of moving forward. It is only now that we are beginning to consider looking holistically at human behaviour, and with time I believe the development of treatments and support for people who deviate from normal mental health will only continue to improve.


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Auras, Souls and Life-force

IMG_4019.jpgI work in a small office with a team of  10 individuals (most of the time) we all vary in age and have come from a number of professional backgrounds and previous vocations. One of the great things about our office, is the range of backgrounds,  we all have very unique stories that brought us to where we are now. While we are all different, one thing we all have in common is a strong personality, and a willingness to share the experiences that have led us to where we are. Recently this led to a fascinating discussion, as to whether or not we have a soul? I know, we don’t ever really do small talk in my office.

The conversation started after a colleague brought up a show she had watched on TV the night before, in the show, they had been discussing God, and one of the commonly asked questions in opposition of such a being,

“If God created everything, and loves us, why does he allow such physical suffering on earth?”

The answer, ‘because God is responsible for your soul, not your body.’

This led to a great discussion, about just exactly what a soul is. My colleague didn’t prescribe to any preconceived religious explanation as to what a soul might be, but she did feel that the soul was a quantifiable and innate part of each person. Personally, I completely agreed with her, I feel that the soul, is a further extension of a person’s consciousness. A life-force which is emitted by the physical being, some people refer to this as an ‘aura’, some even believe they can see these life forces emanating from particularly strong spirited people.

Whether this is true or not, the premise features heavily in the characters I have so far conceived for my main literary project, ‘Phoenix’.

The following is a short story I wrote last year as my creative writing piece which was submitted as part of a Higher English writing portfolio. It is a story which is based upon an experience I had when I was much younger, it is of course a work of fiction, but there are certain elements which reflect a period of my early teens when I spent a great deal of time in and around a children’s hospital. I was there because my twin brother was incredibly ill for a very long time, but it was a place where I was able to witness miraculous recoveries, and terrible losses. While the loss that inspired this piece was not mine, I spent a great deal of time with a young boy while both of our brother’s were cared for, and subsequently got to know his brother, who unfortunately passed away.


The atrium was a façade of colour, like a copious smothering of make up scraped over an ageing face, attempting to hide the blemishes and contours accrued by age. Sky blue paint, had been slathered onto the walls, but was no more appropriate than the meadow of green hued linoleum. The whole atrium was a poor imitation of nature, but as a lion brought from the wild to captivity would wilt over time, so had the décor wilted and withered until it was unmistakeably a man made illusion. I shuddered, suddenly feeling nauseated; the air seemed thick and viscous, each shuddering breath drawing panic from the world around me into my very core. I had to remind myself, this was not just a place where people came to die, but also a place where people could get better.

The hand, which had been on my shoulder since walking through the revolving doors, squeezed gently, reassuring, strong. It reminded me I was not alone.

Bright colours and cartoon characters emblazoned on the walls pervaded my periphery; each one seeming more garish than the last, yet each one held my attention just long enough to give me time to breath. My eyes came to rest on a fragile looking woman who was speaking ever so softly into a bundle of wool in her arms. Whatever resided within so small; that I feared her gentle crooning and stroking would break whatever lay between the folds of the candy pink shroud. Next to her sat a formidable looking woman with a stern expression on her face, as though daring the universe to challenge her. With a shudder I looked away from them, leaving them to their own lives and their own pain.

The sight of the woman as she had cradled her precious burden, had reminded me of the first time I had saw… Her. My mother’s shoulders hung with the same fragility as the woman, yet her demeanour was that of a maternal wolf protecting her infant cubs. I had held my breath as I’d peered at the face, which was almost consumed by the swaddling around it. I reached out to touch her beautiful translucent skin, but my mother reflexively pulled her away, clutching her closer to her bosom, while narrowing her eyes reproachfully. I had waited three long months since being told she would be joining our family, I didn’t understand why her early arrival was not something to celebrate.

A sharp pulse in my temple throbbed as I reminisced over memories of her as she had been then; as I had been then, oblivious to the life we would all be forced to live. I reigned in the emotions, which threatened to overwhelm me, shrugging the hand from my shoulder. I turned to my father, whose eyes, were red rimmed and unusually stoic. Now was not my time to dwell on any of this. This was her time. She had asked that I be here, my father had tried to contest it, but he knew he would not win. I started walking again, knowing without looking that my father followed behind.

The double doors at the back of the atrium led to a formal looking corridor. Gone were the vivid colours, which had adorned every surface, and in their place blocks of pastel tones broke the sparsely decorated, whitewashed walls. Even the posters on the walls seemed formal, informative and they served more purpose than just to entertain. The corridor had seemed to stretch into eternity the first time we had come here. Yet now, we navigated the halls with a well-rehearsed ease. All to soon we were in front of the elevators, already groaning as they descended from above and opened, beckoning us to enter them, before we had even called them. We stepped in, waiting for the doors to close before pressing the button for the fifth floor, as if these small delays could put off what we had come to do.

The heavy wooden fire doors were sealed with an electronic lock, the entryway, usually open to all who came to visit, would stay closed until the first visitors were welcome at 09:00. It unsettled me knowing that I could not just push open the door and run to her. My father pressed the intercom, which crackled, until a harried voice dared us to ask for early entry. The exasperation left her voice instantly on hearing our names. I could not listen to what they were saying, knowing that we were now so close to her. The same nurse who had spoken over the intercom opened the door and beckoned us in; her eyes betrayed her well-trained voice. My father stayed to ask where she had been moved to, but I could not wait to hear.

I walked purposefully to the end of the corridor and stopped before the last door, the curtains were drawn on the inside and the door was closed over but I didn’t hesitate before pushing down on the handle, and opening the door to the private room. My heart fluttered in my chest, plastic lines carried unknown fluids to and from her body, and just below her left breast a dark wound lay open to the world, the wires looked more like the desperate tendrils of a plant creeping out of the shadows into the light. All of her body functions regulated by machines exaggerated the disrepair her body seemed inflicted with. Yet the broken flesh, and shallow breathing did not concern me. Her body was draped in linen sheets and nothing more.

Even as a child she had exuded energy, a soul too powerful for her body to contain, she had always been enveloped in a powerful aura. I had never questioned that I could see this; it seemed just as much a part of her as the smile, which seemed to permanently reside on her face. Seeming so tangible, that I could have reached out a hand to caress the light her skin exuded. It would wrap itself around her like a cloak, and even when her heart had begun to fail, her aura would shine all the brighter making her stronger and carrying her body when it didn’t seem to be able to carry itself.

Stepping over the threshold of the room seemed to break the spell over the other occupant; my mother staggered from the chair she had been perched on. She brought me to her chest without a word and enveloped me in her arms. My father, who had finally caught up with me entered the room, he tried to speak and faltered, instead he fell into the chair, which had only just been vacated by my mother. I disengaged myself from my mother’s arms and crept closer to her bedside. Her face was filled with a serenity, which I had not seen for months.

Gone now was the golden cloak of light, her body seemed much smaller and more vulnerable without it. The air seemed to vibrate for a moment, before her eyes slowly opened, the energy, which I had become so used to seeing when I was with her, was still in her eyes, still in her smile, but it no longer clung to her. Her eyes met mine, and for a perfect moment the universe paused for us. Even as I thought this, the gentle, upwards curve on her lips faltered and she sunk back into her white linen sanctuary as unconsciousness took her once more. In that moment we had shared, I watched as the light in her eyes faded to an incomprehensible glow. Her body continued to breath, an after effect of life perhaps, but where machines can force a heart to beat, nothing could ever contain her soul.

Missed Opportunity

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I believe in the universe. I mean obviously it exists, but I believe not just in it’s physical presence but it’s spiritual one. I don’t mean that to sound so abstract and nonsensical, but I have a deep affinity for the belief that as long as you actively try in life, there is no win or lose, pass or fail, and dare I say, right or wrong. My past is littered with experience, both positive and negative, and while there are times where darkness has threatened to consume my existence, I have tried to live by the simple ethos that once something has passed, it no longer has power over you.

You are welcome to disagree with me, even I do sometimes, but it is something I try to embody as I live my life. For the most part I am happy with who I am, with the beliefs that I hold, and the life I live. There are aspects of my life that are not easy, but each individual has their own set of challenges to face. As long as we keep trying, then however many set backs we experience, we can always say we are moving forwards. For the negative aspects of our past to have power, we have to give an experience meaning, so we can ultimately take back power from experience by recognising it for what it was and forgiving ourselves for the pain we allowed the experience to inflict upon us.

Good or bad, once an experience has occurred, it becomes a part of us, an intrinsic piece of an infinite puzzle. Some of us can get stuck on a particular piece of that puzzle, they may not be able to see past it for some time, but as time progresses, so does the way we see things, and eventually, we realise that it doesn’t matter where that piece of the puzzle goes, because it’s ultimately just another piece that leads to the bigger picture that exists in the present. We are who we are because each puzzle piece has been added, good or bad, right or wrong, when we keep adding to the picture, the picture becomes clearer. We just have to remember to step back and look at the whole picture, not just the puzzle piece you are stuck on.

There are many aspects of my life that have led me to deep introspective assessment of the choices I’ve made so far. After all, life is a series of choices, one leading to another, leading to another, leading to another. Once you’ve made a choice, it becomes a fixed point in your individual story, a piece in your own puzzle. In some cases we have the opportunity to change our minds, to make mistakes and try again. In others opportunity comes once and regardless of the choice made or the outcome of those choices, the opportunity is gone.

What I find most interesting about opportunity, is that sometimes you don’t realise it was there until after it has passed, and it is only once it’s gone that you reflect on what that may then have led to. For every choice we make, there are a number of alternate choices or outcomes that could have been made, but going with the decisions we made at the time, we often don’t see the things we didn’t do as missed or lost opportunities.

At the tail end of last year, I felt decisive. I had spent the better part of five years studying among other things, with the intention of applying to university. I picked a range of Higher level subjects that I should have attained in high school and threw myself into them. After a while I got the hang of studying and it changed my world. I still had the main goal of university in the back of my mind, as I didn’t really have any belief in my worth as a person without a degree, but the closer I got to being ready to apply to university, the more I realised I wasn’t ready to apply.

The reason was because by studying, by trying new things, talking to new people and having new experiences I had become a different person, with different goals and aspirations. For a while that threw me, as I had had such a firm plan of action in my mind that when I realised I no longer wanted it, I didn’t know what I wanted. I was ready for a change, but I had nothing to change, so I did what I always do, I waited. I kept doing new things,  as well as doing a number of the things I was already doing as well. I kept learning and I kept growing, and soon an opportunity presented itself, a job I’d wanted for a long time became available.

I applied, still with the notion that without a degree I was wasting my time, so when I was successful in achieving that job, I was filled with a sense of power. With hard work, commitment and experience I achieved exactly what I had been working towards, the goal I had set for myself was unnecessary, but if I hadn’t had that goal, I wouldn’t have pushed myself to develop in the way that I did. Without meaning to, I’d grown and become knowledgable enough to not only have an opinion but to stand behind it. I realised that opportunity doesn’t always come to you, that hard work and patience isn’t the only way of creating opportunity. Sometimes, opportunity has to be created by you.

This realisation was a profound awakening, as I realised that there were many times in my life where opportunity while not inherently present, could have been if I had had the awareness to create it. This notion burned within me, and I thought of all the things I wish I had done but for one reason or another, did not do. Among all other things, I settled on one experience.

In my fifth year of high school, in maths class, I sat next to someone. For nine months I sat next to this person for 45 minutes each day. Other than pleasantries, and the occasional request for forgotten stationary, I couldn’t have told you anything about this person. I had missed an opportunity to get to know someone, not because I didn’t want to, but because I did.

The reason I was unable to get to know them, was because at the time, I didn’t know who I was. They represented a part of me that I had yet to recognise, the part of me that desired another person. As I hadn’t experienced that connection to a person before I didn’t recognise it for what it was until years after the opportunity to know them was gone. With time, I was able to admit not just what I had felt towards them to myself, but to others as well. Eventually it led me to form my first few relationships, and become happier in and of myself.

But I still held them on a pedestal within myself, not as an object of desire, but as a representation of what it took me almost a decade to understand. Opportunity can be created. Which is why six months ago, I contacted my former high school crush (isn’t social media wonderful) and asked them to have coffee with me. I didn’t expect a reply, I just wanted to say I had tried; that we then met up and had coffee and a fantastic conversation was a wonderful bonus.

I had coffee with them again today, and again I was treated to a conversation I would otherwise have never had, had I not recognised that we create our own experiences by being decisive.

We have the power to make our lives whatever we want them to be, as long as we actually want them to be that way.

If I have learned anything it is that the opportunities we miss, aren’t wasted, if they affect us and give us the drive to try harder, even if it is years later, then the missed opportunity was meaningful. Like all experiences it becomes a part of us, and when we are ready to step back and look at the whole picture, we realise that the pieces of the puzzle that you thought were missing, were just meant to be placed somewhere else, at some other time.

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