The Nature-Nurture debate in both sociology and psychology at a-level has, historically, generally been framed in terms of an either / or approach to understanding the relationship between genes and social / environmental influences. In short, either our behaviour is fundamentally a product of our genetic inheritance (biological determinism) or it is a product of our cultural experiences (cultural determinism).

Recent developments in neuroscience – and, in particular, the ability to see, understand and interpret MRI scan data – have, however, cast doubt on the utility of seeing human behaviour in terms of this relatively simple biology-culture dichotomy.

More specifically, the work of researchers like James Fallon and Kent Kiehl in relation to psychopathy and Randy Jirtle in the field of epigenetics (“above genetics”) has suggested that even though very clear genetic differences exist between the brain structures of “psychopath” and “non-psychopath” the frequently-destructive behaviour of the former can’t simply be explained in terms of simple genetic predispositions: even in what seems one of the most clear-cut examples of genetic predispositions, cultural factors play a clear – and possibly crucial – role in the social development of psychopaths.

This type of research suggests, therefore, that the Nature-Nurture debate is much more complex than previously thought, something you can explore further in a number of ways:

This short article, for example, is an accessible introduction to the work of both Fallon and Kent.

If you prefer a visual explanation of Fallon’s work and findings in the context of his own particular life experiences, this short (19 minute) film (reviewed here by Deb Gajic) will be useful: It’s available now on DVD.

Similarly, if you want a short (23 minute) introduction to Epigenetics through the work of Randy Jirtle and his ground-breaking Agouti mouse study, also available On Demand and on DVD.

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