In a groundbreaking study on the long- standing question of nature vs. nurture, a team of enterprising psychology undergraduates at the University of Michigan have determined that, as a matter of fact, “it is actually a little bit of both.” The study demonstrates conclusively that, when it comes to the contribution of a person’s genes vs. the contribution of her environment, the answer lies not in either factor taken in isolation, but rather in both factors viewed as parts of a larger whole.
The study—which arrived at its conclusion via a remarkable combination of logic, reason, and common sense—upends decades of one-sided theories in the nature vs. nurture debate. It is said to represent a paradigm shift in developmental psychology.
“For decades, those of us in the scientific community were completely baffled by this question,” said psychology professor Sayeed Annand. “We kept wondering: ‘Is it purely genes, or purely the environment?’ Assume it’s all genes, and you’re left scratching your head at why parental neglect leads to developmental difficulties. Assume it’s all environment, and you’re left wondering why puppies become dogs and babies become humans—even though they’re all living under the same roof!”
“Turns out, it is a little bit of both,” Dr. Annand explained.
Michelle Yu, the lead author of the study, said she was inspired to examine the question in greater depth by a contentious discussion in her introductory psychology course. “Everyone was arguing that it had to be either genes or environment—it was actually a really hostile debate,” Yu said. Reportedly, Yu’s groundbreaking new theory “just came to [her]” without any extended engagement with the psychological literature. “The answer just sort of fell right into my lap: maybe it is neither one nor the other, but is instead a mix of both.” Yu’s paper is slated to appear in the next issue of Science, alongside an updated Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Originally Published November 2014