What do social scientists mean by nature and nurture?

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The idea of “nature vs. nurture” is a debate over how human beings come to be the way they are.  It asks whether people get their traits from heredity or from the way that they are brought up.  The term “nature” refers to heredity and the genes people get from their parents.  The term “nurture” refers to the environment in which the person lives.

Let us think about this in the context of the issue of where intelligence comes from.  On the one hand, we can argue that intelligence is in our genes.  If our parents were smart, we will most likely be smart as well because we have their genes.

But it is also possible to argue that intelligence comes from our environment.  For example, if we are brought up in a family that owns a lot of books and reads them rather than constantly watching TV or playing video games we might be more likely to become intelligent.  This would be true simply because we practice using our intellect much more than someone from a different family.

So, when social scientists talk of “nature” they mean genetics, and when they talk of “nurture,” they mean a person’s environment and upbringing.

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