People are a summation of their habits, temperaments, and experiences. However, where do these things that define us come from? Psychology has long been debating whether they stem from our genes or our environment. Settling the debate will expand our currently limited understanding of human development.
Although our genes contribute to who we are, it is our environment that really determines identity. Urie Brofenbrenner proposed a theory called the ecological model of development that explains this. We are infants with genes born into families, but those families determine who we are. How this happens depends on the family composition, how roles are divided within the family, and the quality of family interaction. However, Brofenbrenner didn’t think that families are the sole determiner of who we become. His model also explains that our development is influenced by a series of increasingly vast systems. Peer groups are one of the systems outside of families that influence us. On a broader scale, the communities we live in (i.e. Maryland or Minnesota, rural or urban, impoverished or affluent) have influence over us too. So does the culture of the society a person grows up in. All of these systems that simultaneously influence us are what mold us into who we are. Our environment might not be able to change whether we develop a disease that we have a mutation for, but what really shapes us is not the development of the disease, but how the world responds to it. This encompasses whether we have support and good treatment, as well as whether the disease is stigmatized in this person’s community/culture. This argument assumes that people do not develop in a vacuum. Even people who grow up in the complete absence of social interaction (i.e. children locked in a room) are still environmentally influenced. Even though they have the genetic capacity for language like everyone else, they don’t develop it. It is our environment that does that. So thus, the environment is more important to our development because our environment is what causes us to acquire language.
The fact that infants are born with genes need not be discounted entirely. As much as their family contributes to their development, so do their genes. Infants are not blank slates, but are born with some genetically-determined traits and temperaments. These influence how the family interacts with them. More social babies elicit more social responses, which increases their sociality. Less social babies are socialized with less, so they grow up to be less social. Nurture isn’t everything, because our genes determine exactly what kind of nurturing we get.