Mead arrived in Samoa to do fieldwork in 1925 after finishing her Master's degree at Columbia the year prior. The object of her fieldwork was to study the "primitive" society of Samoa and understand how they socialize children differently. The purpose of the study is perhaps best summarized by Mead's advisor, Franz Boas, who wrote the forward for Mead's seminal study, Coming of Age in Samoa. Boas said, "Courtesy, modesty, good manners, conformity to definite ethical standards are universal, but what constitutes courtesy, modesty, very good manners and definite ethical standards are not universal. It is instructive to know that standards differ in the most unexpected ways."
Central to Mead's research was investigating the "nature vs. nurture" debate. Mead asked,"Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions does adolescence present a different picture?" After studying the small tribe of Samoan women, sixty-eight in all, who ranged from ages nine to twenty, Mead concluded that in Samoa, the transition from childhood to adulthood was smooth and free from the angst so frequently suffered in the United States. Mead therefore, contends, that nurture, not nature is the larger influence in development.