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Nature vs. Nurture

I had an interesting conversation with a mom at the baby store where I work.
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She was walking through the store, searching for a pacifier her three month old daughter would actually take.  Try as she might, her baby just would not take a pacifier and even was finicky when it came to a bottle nipple.  As I tried to help her with her situation, and we discussed the virtues of latex vs. silicion pacifiers, I gushed over her cute baby.  She then offered up that she had an older daughter who just loved her pacifier, and she never had the problems with her first little girl that her second baby was giving her.

“My first baby was so easy,” she went on. “I don’t know why this one is so different.”

“They come out with their own little personalities,” I responded, in my most clinically professional baby store manner.  “You can select a particular bottle or pacifier for your baby because you like it, but that doesn’t mean your baby will.”

We moved along to the “great wall of pacifers” as it is affectionately called, and we examined her options.  Pleased with her selection and ready to purchase just about anything that would help calm her baby–barring alcohol, of course–she thanked me and was on her way.  As she left, she gave me some (baby) food for thought:

“The complete difference in my babies’ personalities really makes me think about the nature vs. nurture debate.”

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I’ll admit; I pondered it, too.  What part of our likes/dislikes, personality quirks, and overall temperment are passed down to us through our parents (nature) and how much of it is acquired in the environment in which we are raised? (nurture).  Is it possible a serial killer is predisposed to anger issues through genetics, or was it because he was beaten as a child?  Is a Rhodes Scholar born with advanced intelligence that just can’t be repressed, or was it the fact that he grew up and attended all the right schools?

It’s an interesting quandry.  Many people are convinced that humans are born with certain traits: intelligence, athleticism, or even homosexuality.  Others believe it is strictly a person’s environment that shapes their likes and dislikes, much like the movie, “Trading Places.”  In the film, two rich brothers bet a dollar that they can take another affluent man with an excellent upbringing and make him turn to crime.  In the meantime, they take another man from the streets, give him the best of everything, and see if he thrives in his environment.

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There were philosophers like Plato and Descartes who believed that we are bound by genetic inheritence, or at least to a point.  Their reasoning was that certain things we are born with, and those will not change regardless of any outside influences.  Other philosophers, such as John Locke, believed in the tabula rasa doctrine, which states we are all “blank slates” and our personalities, etc., are all based on our experiences and environment.  As a parent, I am inclined to believe that we are a product of both schools of thought.  (Although the thought of having a “blank slate” sounds pretty appealing, especially as an adult!)

Do you have kids with similar likes and dislikes?  What do you attribute it to?  Are we “pre-programmed” or are we born with “blank slates”?


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