Nature via Nurture

by Matt Ridley

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Last Updated on September 25, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

Nature via Nuture by Matt Ridley explores the ways in which genes and environmental factors interact and influence each other in regards to the development of a person and their behavior, expressions, and talents. Matt Ridley approaches the nature versus nurture debate by refusing entirely to adhere to the dichotomy; instead, he studies how nature and nurture interact with each other and what effects this interaction has.

Ridley discusses research on how hereditary traits and environment can affect human and nonhuman animals alike. For instance, the book delves into the ways in which human twins who are not raised together are often found to exhibit strikingly similar personalities, behaviors, and abilities. This, of course, suggests the influence of genes. However, human twins who are raised together can also often exhibit strikingly distinct and separate personalities, which certainly indicates nonhereditary factors—perhaps a desire on one or both of the siblings' parts to express themselves as distinct individuals due to their proximity and physical likeness.

Interestingly, the book also discusses how genes can be materially affected by environment, as in the ways trauma (an example of an environmental cause) has been proven to permanently alter one's DNA. Further research shows that generational trauma—such as the trauma of slavery, native boarding schools, and so on—can be inherited. Ridley's approach to discussing the ways in which trauma and environmental or social conditioning interact with each other provides a holistic approach to studying both human and nonhuman animals' behavior and expression.

Ridley delves into the ways in which environment and diet can affect genes, which can in turn shape the social arrangements of a group of primates. For example, because gorillas primarily eat common plants, they don't need to travel far to access food. Because of this, a band of gorillas can stay close-knit and can easily be defended by one silverback gorilla. In contrast, chimpanzees survive primarily by eating fruit, which is spread throughout a jungle or forest. Such bands of chimpanzees are more easily attacked as they move and are dispersed throughout the trees; as such, multiple chimps serve as defenders of a group. And notably, the male chimpanzees are not much larger than female chimps, because defending the band does not fall to just one large and very strong defender, such as is the case with gorillas. This research serves to create a larger, more rounded understanding of how genes and environment interact.

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