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The Eternal Debate: Nature vs. Nurture

The popularly contested nature versus nurture debate is as appealing as it is unresolvable in answering the question: how and why do we become who we are?  While some believe that people behave according to genetic predispositions, others believe that people think and behave in certain ways because they are taught to do so.

While it is oftentimes difficult to disentangle the two, advancements in genetics, neurobiology and technology, in combination with widespread societal shifts, are blurring the line in this age-old debate by helping us more fully understand how both heredity and environment shape who we are.

In a new book called The Temperamental Thread, its author, Jerome Kagan, works to untangle some of the complexities behind human personality and behavior.  According to an article in the New Scientist:

…everyone is born with a biologically based temperamental bias that is evident in infancy and influences our future behavior, but how that pans out as we grow up depends strongly on a range of factors such as our ethnicity and gender, how our parents treat us, their social class, the size of our home town and whether or not we have older siblings.

While this eternal debate may never fully be solved, our fast-growing understanding of the human brain and the human genome has shifted the discussion from being simply about how nature or nurture shape behavior, to how each contributes, and in what ways and to what extent, to human development.  In many cases, we are still largely ignorant about the biology that underlies behavioral predispositions and the cascade of psychological processes that flow from them.

From a marketing perspective, there is clearly much we still need to learn about how and why people choose products and respond to marketing appeals.  To the extent that these are genetically determined, more knowledge can help make both product development and marketing more cost effective.