Innate and Learned Behaviour


The argument regarding nature and nurture is one that will never be settled, it is one of the oldest issues in psychology.

It is not possible to do any controlled experiments to investigate nature and nurture, for example, how could you separate all nurture influences?

Nativists, i.e. Gessell (1880-1961) and Rousseau (1712-1778) believe that certain areas of behaviour are innate and they argue that we inherit the qualities that determine what kind of person we will become. They believe that our behaviour is due to our genes.

In contrast Rousseau (1712-1778) believed that infants are born with a conscience and a sense of fairness and that human nature is good until it is corrupted by society.

Locke and Paiget believe children are innately curious and exploratory, innate behaviour is known from birth, e.g. breathing and blinking, a baby can and does breathe in the womb.

Famous empiricists such as David Hume (1711-1776) and John Locke (1632-1704) believe our behaviour is learned. They argue that a child’s behaviour is influenced by the care, attention and emotions that they receive during childhood, for example ‘sleep,’ this can be taught, i.e. if a baby is not picked up as soon as he/she starts to cry then they soon learn to go back to sleep.

John Locke (1632-1704) believed that the mind begins as a blank slate (Tabula rasa) and that everything is learnt by experience. By believing in the Tabula rasa theory, he believed that individuals are born without inbuilt mental content and that their knowledge comes from life’s experiences. In Latin terms Tabula rasa means ‘Erased state.’

When investigating the relationship between parent and child, you cannot conclude that nature is having any influence because any similarities could be down to the way that the child is bought up.

Can nature affect nurture? The environment can change the way our body and mind work, for example drugs and alcohol, in excess can alter both...