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Oxford University Press How do we become who we are? The one says genes determine an individual while the other claims the environment is the linchpin for development. New research into epigenetics—the science of how the environment influences genetic expression—is changing the conversation.
As psychologist David S. Moore explains in his newest book, The Developing Genome, this burgeoning field reveals that what counts is not what genes you have so much as what your genes are doing. Factors like stress, nutrition, and exposure to toxins all play a role in how genes are expressed—essentially which genes are turned on or off.
Unlike the static conception of nature or nurture, epigenetic research demonstrates how genes and environments continuously interact to produce characteristics throughout a lifetime.
We spoke with Moore to find out more about the science of epigenetics, its impact on the nature versus nurture debate, and the hopes and cautions that come with such a potentially revolutionary line of research.
How does the science of epigenetics change the seemingly age-old nature versus nurture debate?
For the longest time, the nature-nurture debate has been cast as a kind of contest between genes and experiences. The thought was that we might have some characteristics that are caused primarily by genetic factors and other characteristics that are caused primarily by experiential factors.
Nature and nurture are always working together to produce all of our traits. Can you describe a study that you feel illustrates the science of epigenetics? The one that has drawn the most attention has been the one done by a team of researchers led by Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf at McGill University.
These researchers watched how rat mothers interacted with their babies. They discovered that some mothers naturally lick and groom their baby rats more than other mothers do. They also noticed that the mothers that licked and groomed their rats the most wound up with offspring that grew up to be adults that were less stressed out when they were put into mildly stressful situations.
The mothers that licked and groomed their baby rats less wound up with offspring that were more stressed out. In order to determine if this was an effect of experience, the researchers cross fostered the baby rats, so the ones born to the high licking and grooming mothers were raised by the low licking and grooming mothers.
What they found was that it was the perinatal experience that made all the difference. So the question was, how can it be that these kinds of early experiences can have these long-term effects later on in adulthood?
Meaney and Szyf traced the effect to epigenetics. Specifically, they discovered that in certain brain cells of baby rats, there are certain genes that get turned on when the babies are licked and groomed.In summary, developmental theory pursues four central themes: (1) the importance of nature versus nurture, (2) stages in development, (3) the existence of critical or sensitive periods, and (4) the impact of early experience.
One question that is exceedingly important for the study of personality concerns the extent to which it is the result of nature or nurture. If nature is more important, then our personalities will form early in our lives and will be difficult to change later. Cognitive Development in Childhood By Robert Siegler.
Carnegie Mellon University. This module examines what cognitive development is, major theories about how it occurs, the roles of nature and nurture, whether it is continuous or discontinuous, and how research in .
The nature versus nurture controversy has been strongly debated within the discipline of developmental psychology for many years. This manuscript cited many studies which have given evidence to the degree of influence both nature and nurture has on the neural, .
The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about whether human culture, behavior, and personality are caused primarily by nature or nurture. Nature is. The nature versus nurture controversy has been strongly debated within the discipline of developmental psychology for many years.
This manuscript cited many studies which have given evidence to the degree of influence both nature and nurture has on the neural, cognitive, and emotional development of an individual.