Nature vs. Nurture

In this thread about children and pornography, the following exchange occurred:

My reply referenced another thread:

The relevant portion of that thread is:

Lissa got her response in before I did (so I missed it at the time), saying:

Having given the background, and so as to not hijack the thread, my question is: what is the (best current) research that contradicts Pinker’s assertions on the nature vs. nurture debate? I’m not criticizing Lissa’s response in post #38, in which a valid point is made about the difference between values and opinions, but would like to know what other books / works provide the other side of the argument and what the research is on which they rely. I also realize it’s more of a GQ question, but I’m not sure it can be answered without sparking a debate – which is interesting in and of itself.

I have read dozens–possibly hundreds-- of books on sociology*, anthropology, history, animal behavior, the human brain, criminology, and various cultures both modern and ancient.

The conclusion I have come to is that human infants are born with a set of “animialistic” behaviors which are innate: the desire to interract wih others, emotions, instinctive responses such as fight-or-flight, and some genetic predisposition towards certain traits.

Next comes the socialization, which gives a child its moral/ethical sense, empathy, social behavior, etc. A child tends to take on the characteristics of their primary socializers, who aren’t necessarily always the child’s parents. In dysfunctional families, the child is often socialized by their peers.

I do not believe that we are born with some innate moral code which tells us “right” from “wrong” especially with the evidence that those terms are defined much differently by different cultures. As an example, in the modern world, we are sickened by the idea of pedophilia, to the point where some people have wondered if its a mental illness of some sort. But two thousand years ago, we would have seen child prostitutes on the streets, and not given a second thought to a man who molested his pre-pubescent slaves. If pedophilia was something that humans were programmed to feel was innately wrong, then you wouldn’t see cultures which accepted it casually.

The same goes for homosexuality. I believe that all humans are inherently bisexual, from what I’ve learned about our closest animal relatives. Our socialization* steers us toward one sexual preference, and later, our personal tastes lead us to what we prefer as adults. I once had a lenghthy debate on this board with a poster who claimed that the revulsion he felt toward male homosexuality was a natural reaction to something “unnatural”. Nothing I said could convince him that his reaction was socially programmed. However, if homosexual behaviors were something to which humans were programmed by nature to find abhorent, there would not be cultures which accepted it, and in some cases, actively encouraged it.

All cultures do seem to share some sort of incest taboo, but the definition of “incest” varies widely. Some cultures (such as our own) frown on unions between cousins, while other cultures have permitted even father-daughter sex in ritual situations.

My stance is this: Humans are born with the urges to be included in a group because we’re social animals. We are born with instinctive responses when faced with danger, and a desire to have sex. We have some genetic predisposition toward certain traits (though we are not prisoners of it). We are born with a set of emotions.

Our moral sense is something that is completely invented by the culture which surrounds us and we base what is right and wrong based on what information we glean from the world around us. How we express our emotions, how much empathy we have, and our social behavior are created in our early socialization.

I am not saying that I know all the answers, or that I am necessarily correct in all of my assumptions. This is merely my opinion, built slowly after years of reading and studying the world around me. Some have called sociology a “mongerel science” because it has no fast and hard rules like other fields of study, but that’s why I love it so-- it evolves as we learn more about human nature. My opinions evolve along with it, the more I learn.

*My husband often has me vet the sociology books he wants his students to use that quarter to see if I think it’s readable and interesting enough for the students.

** We are products of our socialization, but not PRISONERS of it.

Sigh. Wow. I am very impressed and happy that you are well-read. :rolleyes: No one else here reads you know.
Anyway. It is good that you acknowledge that you are offering up your opinion and if you want to actually discuss (rather than pontificate about) developmental psychology and cognitive neuropsychology and evolutionary psychology, I’ll be happy to engage. But where to start with all the areas that we disagree … I will not be able to avoid rambling some.

“Animalistic”? Let’s avoid the value-laden words. We are born with a set of basic drives into a environment with stimulii, some of which are predictable and some of which are unique. We are biologically predisposed to learn particular sorts of information from this environment in ways that allow us satisfy and balance those sometimes conflicting drives. As we grow the salient environment becomes increasingly social and our being primed to succeed in complex social structures consists of adapting our behavioral predispositions to the specific social world in which we exist. We need to time responses. We need to delay gratification and plan ahead. We need to decide which drive satisfaction is more important at which particular time. and give up on one for the sake of meeting another. We custom fit our predispositions to the specific environment. We can stick with Pinker’s pet example as a model for the analogy: language. Clearly we are predidsposed to learn language and to learn language in particular ways, but the specifics will vary and irregular forms will exist. The fact that irregular forms exist does not prove that the regular form, the “rule” does not. It does not prove that the predisposition to learn a particular structur does not exist.

In regards to moral behavior we have many biological predisposions. That does not mean that we must be, or are, prisoners of them. Nor does the fact that we are predisposed to behave in a certain manner make it “right.” Much evil exists because of our biologic predispostions and much good … if you believe that either exist other than as cultural terms. Which brings us to your position of moral relativism. This discussion does not require a belief or no-belief in absolute morality. “Good” and “Evil” may exist independent of societies or only “good” and “evil” may exist as a function of societal norms, and still one can believe that some of what drive moral judgements are inate biologic predispositions, and some is the need of a society to have axioms upon which to base the rules which society must have in order to exist.

The fact is that few societies have accepted pedophilia casually, even if some tolerated it or looked the other way when practiced upon “property” or the poor. It is also true that few societies have actively encouraged homosexulaity even if it was practiced by many in certain social strata. What informs us is not that there ae exceptions, but they are indeed exceptions … exceptions to a general rule that is usually true. that is what “predisposed” implies: not an absolute inviolate rule of nature, but a tendency. And in neither of those cases does that point, about what we tend to be biologically predisposed to, constitute any sort of argument about what is right or wrong or moral. Lots of what we are biologically predisposed to as humans is evil: we are predisposed to kill the non-related “other” if we percieve them as a threat and we have power over them - genocide is a notural result of our biologic predispositions. As are prejudices of all sorts. No, to make moral and ethical judgements I must go to my basic values and balance out the different axioms. Since I function on a secular value system the values of non-coercion and freedom of thought and action unless it violates the freedoms of others play high to me. So pedophilia is wrong enough to outlaw because it requires coercion of someone I consider incapable of making an informed decision for themselves. And homosexuality is something that is not my personal taste but entails no coercion so therefore is none of mine or of society’s business. I also have a basic value, yes value, that one individuls should attempt to treat each other with some respect and that degrading others is wrong. To me that is not taste, it is a value. And if someone is coerced into being degraded, then that is, to me, wrong.

Now those are indeed values that I have been socialized into. But I think that they are more important than my “natural” biological drives alone.

IMHO, and not mine alone, society did not come into existance and create moral codes which it then imposed upon its members. Instead we evolved in groups. To succeed in a group we had to have a biologic tendency to behave in certain ways. A kinship without those predisposition did not succeed for long. Those tendencies were many. To conform to norms to some degree. To help others especially if they were percieved to part of our kinship and especially if that help got us something in return either directly or indirectly. To punish cheaters and to cheat others ourselves under certain circumstances. So on. And group structures that took advantage of those predispositions by creating axioms and rules around them were able to succeed more and to absorb other groups, or spread the idea to other groups which also managed to succeed. Which changed the environnment which people needed to adapt to. In short, the development of social structures was and is a nonlinear process. Obviously “cultural evolution” has occurred at a pace that is orders of magnitude faster than biological evolution for thousands of years, but that is a but a blink in the history of biological evolution and long before cultural evolution got up a head of steam our group mores were more a product of our biological predispostions than our behaviors were a product of the culture.

Which answers Dig’s op as little as did your response. No, I know of no data that contradicts Pinkers position.

Thanks for responding, Lissa. This thread might be a problem for me, as I think it might require more time than I can give it. Just so it’s clear, I believe Pinker has it right. Most likely the most prominent explanation for that is the cartoony way the debate is presented (or devolves, if allowed). The idea presented by many that humans are infinitely malleable and that we are products of socialization is simply absurd. Pinker is the sole reasonable voice that I know of that directly contests that view (witness the Harvard incident, where there literally was not even consideration of Summers’ question about women in the sciences; just a veritable witch-hunt ending in his resignation).

And, of course, you agree to some extent. However, it’s not clear to me to what extent. It’s also not clear to me what scientifc foundation underlies these arguments, which is essentially what I’m looking for. For instance, in this debate on gender and science, Pinker says:

Indeed they are not; in fact, I fall directly in line with him, and am asking about empirical findings. I don’t want to get swept into a debate on gender, so I’ll just quote one thing:

I assume that, if I took the time and made the effort, I could dig up information about these cases. The “male-specific patterns of behavior such as rough-and-tumble play” leads directly to the supposition that males are more (physically) violent, which is also borne out in the literature.

Now, that’s fine and dandy, and (I think) fits into what you would be calling “animalistic behaviors”. But I believe studies refute your stated belief that “A child tends to take on the characteristics of their primary socializers, who aren’t necessarily always the child’s parents.” In particular, Pinker refers to “twin studies”, in which twins raised separately exhibit remarkably similar behaviors, in details that are surprising. On the other hand, I’ve seen such studies criticized as flawed – though I can’t remember anymore what the flaws were nor where I read about them. Besides that, you did say “tends to” – but I’m not sure what that signifies (e.g., was the fact that children are generally raised by their parents controlled for? is it an overwhelming percentage? etc.) You also mention peers as the influence in “dysfunctional families”; the implication being that in “functional families”, peers exert little influence. What is the evidence for that?

So, what have you come across in your readings (anything you consider reliable and on solid scientifc foundations) that gets at the difference between “animalistic behaviors” and “morals”? Either pro or con; as I said earlier, while I think Pinker has it right, it may be because he’s the only one I know of (and I emphasize “I know of”) who seems to address it properly.

If you take the time to answer – and I realize it may require a rather large amount – I thank you in advance.

Okay, what the hell’s up with the attidue? I was answering a specific question by the OP, to wit:

I did not list specific titles, because they’re numerous, and probably a good portion of the authors would be virtual unknowns to those outside that field of study.

I’m perfectly willing to discuss this with you, but I could use a little less of the snide, all right?

I don’t view that word as being particularly value-laden. We are animals, mammals to be specific, closely related to the ape family. What “value” are you placing on that? It’s a simple statement of fact without any “value” implications on my part.

I agree with you in a sense-- that we are genetically programmed to learn a social sturcture. I do not agree that a specific sort of morality is inherent to that structure.

I do not agree with this. People are not born with the innate knowledge that, for example, “hurting people is bad” or “stealing is wrong.” In fact, our urges tell us to do otherwise and it is only through social training that we learn to curb them.

I don’t.

Of course. It’s natural for human societies to develop a code of behavior and a means for dealing with those who refuse to obey it. However, that code is extremely flexible among societies.

I would argue that, if anything, it is modern society which is the “exception.” Pedophilia existed throughout much of human history-- at least as far back as it has been recorded, that is. It existed in a wide spectrum of societies, and still exists in some cultures as an approved practice. (Remember the African tribe which believes a boy must fellate the elder men in order to get his own supply of sperm for adulthood?) It is only since the Victorian era that we in Western society have begun to deem children as non-sexual creatures which must have their innocence protected.

All I am saying is that your moral code is not the end-all-be-all. You have your reasons for believing it, while others have reasons for believing their own. Yours is no more valid than theirs.

I do not agree. If this were true, a Japanese child could never be assimilated into, say, the Ik tribe, or, conversely, a child of the Ik could never be assimilated into Japanese society. The value systems of these two groups are vastly different.

Yes, but the “norms” are so different among different cultures that you cannot say that there is some sort of “standard” human behavior which is within us all.

The Ik tribe values none of these things. Children are thrown out of the home at age three to fend for themselves. Cruelty is a prized attribute and kindness scorned. The old are thrown out to starve, and theft is an accepted means of getting food and valuables.

The Ik used to be a “normal” society, but economic devestation turned them into a survival-of-the-fittest society. Why didn’t the predisposition stop them?

Personally, I would rather look at the work of people like B.F Skinner who put in thousands of hours of experimental work on their theories (Pinker has done none) and whose work has withstood the test of time.

I also have a host of objections about some of the mischaracterizations of other researcher’s work that I saw in the book, but that could turn into a Michael Moore-style debate, and I don’t think anyone wants that.

I’m having similar reservations. It started when you asked who I had read that contradicted Pinker’s assertions. There are so many authors, books and essays I have read that listing them all would be tedious in the extreme. Nor do I think it’s particularly entertaining to get into a game of “deuling sources.” I think if we continue with this, we should just point to specific areas and concentrate on the researchers who have explored it.

I have to disagree with you. I don’t believe that humans are entirely blank at birth, because we have certain drives and certain genetic predispotions toward certain traits but I firmly believe that absent of any mental problems, a person’s behvior is almost entirely the product of the socialization they recieved. In other words, the clay exists already, but it is molded by those surrounding it.

I don’t think this is necessarily a comment on the current state of the social sciences as much as it it on the atmosphere of political correctness. After all, a man was fired for using the term “niggardly.”

Here is an article which adresses some of the problems:

I have also read that in at least one case, the twins lived in the same town and attended the same school though being raised by different families. Nor were there controls for socio-economic factors and the similarity of the families themselves.

Lastly, if you and I sat down and compared aspects of our lives, I’m sure we could discover some “amazing” coincidences, even though we’re not related. It depends on whether the researcher reported all the data with no “axe to grind” or emphasised the similar points while ignoring the dissimilar.

Perhaps I was not clear enough. Primary socializers are usually the child’s parents, but if a child is neglected, the peers can become the primary socializers. That’s not to say that peers have little influence in a child’s life if his parents are his PS, only that the parents had the primary position. Peers and others are part of the secondary group, which has, of course, a good deal of influence. In essence, the parents are the foundation, and the peers are the walls.

This is an answer which would be a book in of itself. I suggest starting by reading works by George Herbert Mead, Charles Horton Cooley, Alex Thio, Dr. Dennis O’Neil, and Ruth Fulton Benedict. All are respected sociologists.

I haven’t read his book but you’d assume as technology increases the level of ‘nature’ will go up. Genetics and fate will still exist, but we will be better at counteracting it. For example if you are genetically programmed for depression and have a life that makes you depressed in 40 years time we will know alot more about how to still lead a reasonably happy life. So the balance of nature vs. nurture is shifting towards nurture and we are intelligently designing ourselves.

There are tons of self help books designed to bring about or remove certain personality traits, and a variety of drugs designed to augment or inhibit certain personality traits, and this pattern of trying to overcome nature and fate will continue as time goes on.

Sure; I meant it when I said that this might be put in GQ. Of course, simply questioning specific research puts it GD, so I think this is the right forum.

Before going any further, I’d like to present a quote (from the Pinker debate I linked to earlier) that I think needs to be constantly reiterated – not that I’m saying you’re unaware of it, but more as a point to reference later in shorthand, because I think it’ll come up multiple times. Let’s call it the statistician view, as opposed to the symmetric view:

With that in play, I refer to it immediately:

I didn’t mean to imply that you held the “infinitely malleable” position, if that’s the way you took it. However, you seem much closer to it than I, so I have to ask: what are some of the “traits” of which you speak? More to the point, how does one distinguish between a “genetic predisposition toward certain traits” and their behavior? Even more exactly, on what foundation do you reject the statistician view in favor of the symmetric view? Just so you know, I’m trying to get some feel for where you’re at; although specifics would be awesome, generalities are fine with me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to follow up with my own specifics later.

Thanks. The problem I see is that the article itself forgets itself and too often slips into exactly the cartoony view I mentioned above. To wit:

Yeah, no shit Sherlock. And nobody with any sense would make the point. The article also concentrates too much on anecdotes; interesting from a human interest standpoint, but bordering on being scientifically useless. I suppose I should point out that–much like our current political climate–the cartoons come from both sides, and are equally ridiculous.

But on p. 4, there’s a really interesting tidbit:

That’s exactly the type of thing I’m curious about.

I’ve already spent too long tonight on this, so some other quick things:

No, no…I didn’t think you were saying peers exert no influence. But how is the extent of influences determined? As I said in a post in the “Blank Slate” thread, in my own case, I think my peers affected my final personality much more than the socialization of my parents. Furthermore, I think I can identify some specific genetic influences (I can go into them if you’d really like).

If you wouldn’t mind, could you be more specific? I realize that I could google the authors, but I’m sure their work is voluminous. Just a title or two, or perhaps a specific topic they’re known for?

I think you’re contradicting yourself, unless I’m misunderstanding.

However, don’t you think that using drugs for treatment simply reinforces the “nature” view while having no affect at all on the “nuture”? In other words, altering brain chemistry has no social or cultural component, but is merely a manipulation of the phenotype. If not, why not?

Lissa, if I seem a bit snide it is only because I have little patience for those who make statements that say that someone with an opposing POV must just be ignorant or not have read much. I have almost as little patience for those whose citation is that they’ve read a lot, although it reminds me a bit of an infamous former poster’s “My post is my cite”. If you’ve read a lot then find the specific information in those volumes that supports your points and cite it. I’ll try to keep the snide down if you keep the facade of “expertise” out this discussion.

The comment on the use of the term animalistic is that it seems to set up a distinction between our basic drives (“animalistic”) and the rest of what makes us us. This is a fictitious distinction. We, like other animals, have drives and the ability to regulate those drives. Period. Humanity then also has an extensive cultural network that grown out of individuals in social structures trying to meet sometimes conflicting drives and which grows out og the behaviors inherent in those drives coupled with extensive cognition.

And no one has made any such a claim. The claim is that we are not genetically programmed to any sort of social structure equally well, but that there are predispositions built in. Again the analogy is to language: few would argue with Pinker’s rsearch (and yes he has done research) on language acquisition and the fact that we are predisposed to learn language according in particular ways which include some general rules of linguistic structure. For details see Word and Rules. This inate predisposition to learn language according particular structures does not mean that the specific language is inate. Of course we are not born knowing the specifics of a particular moral code any more than we are born knowing what “rhinocerus” means. But the predispositions to learn particular sorts of rules preferentially are there. The specifics of course depend on how the individual predispositions are balanced in particular: to kill is not good but killing is good if it accomplishes a greater good, say in war or in execution or in self-defense or perhaps in satisfying the will of a God for sacrifice.

Well, you keep saying that, and I am going to have to ask you for some cite of that claim. To my read pedophilia has been present in many societies, but “approved” of in only very particular exceptional circumstances. These include circumstances in which the victim was someone whose class was such that their rights were felt to be inconsequential compared to those of the perpetrater, as in slave status or the poor; or when as part of particular tightly regulated religious rites which had little to do with pleasuring the adult. I know of no evidence that pedophilia was normative in any mainstream culture. Please provide the evidence that modern society is exceptional in its disapproval for that behavior. Ancient China was perhaps full of socially approved child molesters? Japan?

Never said it was. My point is only that the biologic predisposition is not the end-all-be-all.

Huh? Could someone who speaks English never learn Japanese? Both are based on some inherent biological structures of language.

And I would disagree:there is more similar between different cultures than different. I will try to find the exact article later, but this year had an article in Science in which it was shown that mebers of societies felt that the average for their culture was aparticular form, ie they bought into a cultural stereotype, but that the individuals’ personailty types were nearly the same in the different cultures nevertheless.

There you go again. Exceptions proof the rules. Predispositions are not absolutes; they are balanced against other drives. They are not stone set and no one has ever claimed that they were.

I’ll have to return later, but more to come about your thoughts of BF Skinners place in the panoploly of psychology and about twin studies with citations of the vast body of work from multiple sources showing how most of what we consider our pewrsonality is biologically predisposed.

By traits I mean tendencies toward short tempers, or substance abuse, intellectual curiosity and the like. How “nature” affects this is to put more neurons in the areas of the brain responsible for those traits. How “nurture” affects it is through the encouragement/discoutagement of that trait by the people around you.

As an example, I am a person who is verbally-attuned. I probably got this from my maternal line, because my mother and my grandmother are both the same way. They encouraged me to expand my vocabulary and encouraged me to read. My natural facility was capitalized upon, leading to the brilliant, charming young woman who is writing this. However, if my parents had discouraged reading, I would still have the facility, but it most likely would have focused on the verbal.

I also have a short temper, which my mother says comes from my father (though she’s got a healthy dose of it herself). All of my life, my parents have discouraged me from giving it reign, and I still struggle with it today. If they had ignored my childish outbursts, I would most likely be a real bitch. I’ve “got it in me”, so to speak.

So, to sum up, we have predispositions toward certain traits, but they can be supressed or encouraged by our socialization. “Nurture” is stronger than “nature” in that respect.

That’s where the socialization comes in. I love to read, and relish nothing more than a nice, fat book and a cup of hot tea, but if my parents/peers had mocked me for reading and I grew up in an enviornment where hot tea was considered “sissy” I probably wouldn’t like either one. I would have molded that predispotision toward language facility into the verbal form-- I’d still have it, but it would be expressed differently.

Lies, damned lies and statistics. I’m inherently distrustful of them because they’re often touted as proving this or that theory but are based on extremely shaky foundations: fundamental attributional errors, selective sampling, lacking in adjustment for conditions, or stretching definitions.

Well, I think the term “gene” has been loosely used in this case. Yes, some people may have a predispotion toward a low boredom-threshold which would keep them seeking new diversions, but I’m hard pressed to classify it as a gene in of itself.

Boy, this is a tough thing to answer in just a few paragraphs. The short answer would be to say it’s a combination of the time spent with the child, the quality of that time, and the parents’ intent.

Socialization is not something a parent decides when and where it should be taught, like potty-training. It’s a gradual process in which every day, tiny bits of data are added to the whole.

As an example, let’s say four-year-old Mandy pulls Jenny’s hair, making her cry. Mom might step in and say, “How would that make you feel if that happened to you?” Mom is probably not thinking about teaching empathy, but that is exactly what she’s doing. (Cooley has written about this, which he calls "the looking-glass self. It’s the process by which we learn to see ourselves from others’ point of view.)

The lesson doesn’t even have to directly invovle the child. Children pick up on behavioral cues by watching their parents. They see how they behave when faced with authority, how they interract with strangers and clerks, what they do when they’re angry, and their actions when faced with ethical problems. This watching is as important as the corrective lessons a child gets. This is one of the reasons why children play “house.” They’re practicing the roles of an adult, based on what they’ve seen from their parents.

If mom and dad aren’t around or seem indifferent to the child’s actions, the child can begin to pattern his behavior on others, usually their peers or slightly older children. That longing to “fit in” is what drives our socialization. We yearn to be approved of and accepted by our group and so we pattern our behavior on what the group expects.

Just about any of Alex Thio’s sociology texts would be a great place to start. I recommend him because he gives a good overview of all of the theories and the “greats” who laid the groundwork for modern sociological study. (And, on a personal note, he’s a really nice guy.)

The only thing I said to that effect was a post in the other thread in which I said if you thought all cultures had some sort of common morality, you couldn’t be all that familiar with them.

As I already said, that comment about what I’ve read was in specific response to a question. I never claimed to be an expert, only a voracious reader with a big mouth.

Yes, I’ve said the same. I do think, though, that the animal kingdom has much to teach us about our own behavior, and I don’t see a problem using that term when talking about basic driving behaviors which are present in man and other animals.

By any chance, have you ever read Chomsky’s work on linguistics? You might enjoy it. Fascinating stuff.

Well, you keep saying that, and I am going to have to ask you for some cite of that claim. To my read pedophilia has been present in many societies, but “approved” of in only very particular exceptional circumstances. These include circumstances in which the victim was someone whose class was such that their rights were felt to be inconsequential compared to those of the perpetrater, as in slave status or the poor; or when as part of particular tightly regulated religious rites which had little to do with pleasuring the adult. I know of no evidence that pedophilia was normative in any mainstream culture. Please provide the evidence that modern society is exceptional in its disapproval for that behavior. Ancient China was perhaps full of socially approved child molesters? Japan?

Here is an article with examples of societies in which man-boy sex was acceptable:

There is much more along these lines, covering many different cultures. (Mind you, this is just about pederasty, not including sex with young girls.)

As for child prostitution, here’s a small article about the Victorian era and the struggle to raise the age of consent to 13.

I’ve read the article and I don’t think it disproves what I’m saying in any sense.

What I’m saying is that there are so many “exceptions” it would absurd to claim there’s a rule in the first place.

Without addressing the specifics here, Judith Rich Harris once, for argument’s sake, took on the position that outside outright abuse there is no factor which can be solely pinned on parental influence, and waited for the psychology/developmental community to shoot her down with full metal jacket citations. She was more surprised than anyone when she got precisely none.

Well, from your last post I see that I have misinterpreted your position somewhat, or you mine, or both. Your most recent post seems hardly to disaagree with the position that “we are biologically predisposed to many behavioral characteristics” … you just interpreted that to mean “all” or something like that.

As to pederastic practices … by pedophilia I was moreso referring to that practiced on pre-adolescents. Unless I am recalling incorrectly pederasty was a practice of companion mentorship introducing teens into the adult world, which sometimes did and sometimes did not include a sexual component. It hardly holds up as evidence that pedophilia was, historically, the norm rather than the exception. And even that occurred exceptionally in the context of the history of these societies. As to child prostitution, I have already commented on how a society tolerating the abuse of those with no significant status doesn’t make the point that such sexual behavior was encouraged either.

In any case I think that what is “so many” and what is “exceptional” becomes a bit of a matter of opinion. We understand each others points and just read it differently.

Just came across this totally non-substantive article that talks about a current twin study. Figured it might of interest. As I say, it contains little beyond a “this study found…”.

Hmmm. I think I didn’t express myself clearly. What I was going for is: define the basis for determining the difference between “trait” and “behavior”. That is, it seems to me that your position boils down to: anything and everything a person actually does is a “behavior” and all “behavior” is due to socialization. The problem I have with that is that you’ve successfully defined away “nature”; you can take anything and everything and call it “nurture”, even while being able to claim “But I acknowledge the role of genetic influence!”

Again, I’m not trying to slander your position, but rather trying to gain some understanding of it. Do I have the above right? If not, could you clarify?

Why do you make that assumption? Furthermore, doesn’t it serve as an example of just how prevalent “nature” is? That is, you’re saying that one way or the other your behavior would’ve been dominated / determined by your inheritance. How is that giving primacy to socialization?

On the one hand, I agree with you – the frequency of claiming “proof” makes them suspect. But that doesn’t mean that the opposite position should be embraced as truth either.

Let’s try a gendankenexperiment: assume parents raise their children without any outside socialization – no peers, no teachers, no one except the parents and children. Will the children grow up to be carbon copies of the parents? Will the individual children grow up and share the same behavior? Now assume the same scenario, except that the children are adopted, and answer the same questions.

Perhaps that doesn’t get us anywhere, as it would be easy enough just to answer “yes” or “no”, without any means of arguing the other way. However, it’s an interesting situation to consider, IMHO.

OK, thanks. A good overview is a good place to start.

Thanks. That was pretty good and more of what I’m looking for. It points to a “faith-based” vs. “reality-based” viewpoint; lots of claims being made (on both sides), with little actual evidence presented (understandably too; it seems to be damnably hard, if not impossible in principle, to design a successful study to test this type of thing). However, I particularly appreciate Harris’ null hypothesis point.

One more response, then I’ve got to go for the day:

Isn’t this the point I made two posts up? If everything is a behavior, and all specific behavior is contingent on socialization (in this case, the particular situation a person is in), what separates the biological predispositions from the socialization? How are they distinguished?

I’m reminded of the type / token distinction in computer science. Yes, instantiation of a given data structure (the token) is always concrete and contingent upon the current state of the computer. But it doesn’t really say anything about the properties of the type.

Yes, Dig I believe it is.

I am beginning to think that we are blending several issues together here.

I’d like to bring focus to the issue of “personality” vs. “values” and vs. “behaviors.” It seems that no one here needs convincing of the fact that genetics have the major role in determining an individual’s personality, that is characteristics like adapatabiltity, openess, etc. (whichever dimensions you choose to use) and basic strengths, like a tendency for musical aptitude, or math, or verbal skills. A discussion of the twin study literature including how the current versions use rate comparisons between monozygotic and dizygotic twins as well as monozygotic raised apart to come up with estimates for the heritability of particular traits, would be fascinating, but seems unneeded. No one is actually taking the extreme behaviorist position. And we all agree that “values” are largely the result of socialization, even if we are in disagreement over how much those societal values are the result of the biologic predispositions of society’s component members. Values are what we think are important, what goals take what priority. Socialization occurs within a family and from peer groups and from society at large. Part of the porn thread that spawned this thread was a concern over how much exposure of values inconsistent to a family’s values from say exposure to misogynistic and/or violent/degrading porn could have on an child’s values. How much does a societal exposure to the sexualization of preteens effect the values that children absorb? As a case study we can only conclude that no one really knows how much social values are influenced by the family of origin vs peers vs society at large.

“Behavior” though is not those traits or those values, it is the action that results from the combination of them in conjuction with interaction with a real set of circumstances. Our individual traits, our individual values, used in pursuit of resultant salient goals within a particular (social) environment.

People can have similar traits but with slightly different values end up with very different behaviors; and they can have similar values but with slightly different traits end up with different behaviors too.

Well, doing something would, by definition, have to be a “behavior”, wouldn’t it? :wink:

My tendency toward a short temper is probably inherited. Maybe I have less neurons in the “tolerance” area, or more neurons in the “knee-jerk reaction” area. My behavior, though, is a result of my socialization. I was taught to control my temper. Had less emphasis been put on controlling it by my socializers, I would react differently to stressful situations. Meaning that self-control (the behavior) has been socialized in me to be stronger than my temper (the trait).

Studies of severely neglected children have shown that the brain can actually atrophy in some areas unless nurtured by stimulus, so it’s possible that discouragement of certain traits could cause the brain to “turn them off”.

There’s truth in the old sage that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A person can overcome their socialization and decide to be different than their parents, but it’s more common to stick with your “training.” As an example, look at Fred Phelp’s family. Most of his numerous children stayed in his “church” and are raising their children with the same hate-filled rhetoric they learned as children. One son has rejected it, though he still characterizes himself as strongly religious.

Not dominated, no. Per the example I used before, the clay would still have been there, but it would have been shaped differently. Traits can be encouraged or nearly suppressed by socialization.

Let’s take a look at dogs for a moment. Some dogs have dominant personalities, making them harder to train, more likely be agressive and to bite. A dilligent trainer can turn it into a good dog by teaching the dog to suppress that trait and obey his/her commands. The trait toward dominance would still exist, but it would have been muted or transferred into other, poditive behaviors.

I don’t completely dismiss it out of hand because even a flawed study may be able to teach us something about human nature.

Not carbon copies, because every human is unique, and traits can “skip” generations, but they would be strongly influenced by it.

This is a very good place to start in exploring the power of socialization-- children who have grown up “feral” or completely lacking normal socialization. From the site (various places):

Well, let’s look to contemporary art. Wiki has a selection of pottery paintings of man-boy courtship scenes (I won’t link to it for fear of violating SDMB rules). Suffice it to say that it’s child porn. You can see a couple of such images if you search for “pederasty” in Wiki.

Each culture had different “ideals.” In the Greek culture, it was adolescents, but in other cultures, it was pre-pubescent boys which were more desirable. In India, the love of hairless pre-pubescent girls was celebrated in poetry.

I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think there’s any evidence I could present which would cause you to change your mind on this. The practice is widely documented. The philospohers had lenghty debates about it. It was celebrated in legends, song and art. What more do you want?

I don’t see why the status of the victims has much to do with it. They were children being used as sexual objects. Of course they wouldn’t use the girl children of their peers in the same fashion-- girls of higher status were expected to be chaste. If a man wanted a pre-pubescent girl of higher status, he married her.

Perhaps I should have been clearer with the “encouraged” bit. Pederasty was encouraged in some societies, such as the Greeks and the Spartans. Molestation of young girls wasn’t, though it wasn’t discouraged either.

Mohammed married a seven year old girl and consummated the union when she was nine. It didn’t raise any eyebrows. Consider the article in one of my previous posts about Victorian child prostitution-- the age of consent was being raised to thirteen. Considering girls didn’t mature as fast as modern females, it is unlikely they had reached menarche, and so can be considered pre-pubescent. In India Brahmin was told “There is no atonement for man who has intercourse with a Vrishali, i.e, a woman who has her courses before marriage.”

To beat the dead horse pederasty is “often confused with pedophilia” (to quote your cite) but is not. No duh, modern Wiki will be full of sexual examples, but according to Wikipedia carnal pederasty was far from universally endorsed even in ancient Greece

And again, a sort of relationship tolerated when practiced by the elite upon the lower class (“Pederastic relationships in a number of different societies were identified with the upper classes, or with class difference between the partners.”), or upon property or poor prostitutes, is scarcely a societal endorsement of the normative nature of a practice.

Without a doubt modern society is exceptional in having extended childhood to 18. 12 or 13 is more common through history and it is no accident that most coming of age cermonies coincide with those ages. We also are unusual in having given children rights at all.

Well this gets closer. But this

does not. That Hadith has always been controversal and has always raised eyebrows. It certainly does not establish that prepubuscent sex was considered acceptable. See here for a discussion

So a lot more like the Indian example, showing that the practice of sex prior to the onset of puberty was a norm for a society at large, for most cultures, most of the time, with modern society being the exceptional case which has a prohibition against it, would make your case. (BTW, the age of menarche has not substantially changed over the years, the age of pubertal onset has lowered, but menarche has stayed fairly consistent. And also BTW the brain is not so simple as the number of neurons ina partiuclar area, in case you really thought that)

All of which is an interesting aside. The point is still a basic one. Certain preferences and behavioral characteristics have been selected for in all animals, including humans, by virtue of their ability to help pass on genes to future generations. Society is the result of individuals with those traits coming together into structures which exist by way of rules that grow out of those traits and benefits and which help provide a structure to balance out and prioritize when individuals’ preferences conflict or goals are mutually exclusive. Societal structures are not prisoners of those predispositions any more than individuals are prisoners of their socialization. But they are resultant from them and therefore often share some very similar themes.

I was involved in one tiny little study that supports the notion that there are at least some aspects of behavior that seem to be determined by genetics. It was a study with a very small sample size, no controls, and pretty much very little that was scientific, it was how my 3 kids behaved prior to birth and after.

When our first kid was at the kicking stage, inside his mom’s tummy, we used to push back on his foot at which point he would stop kicking, then later he would start up again. Typically the kicks were not real hard. After he was born and to this day he tends to be cautious and conservative.

When our 2nd kid was at the kicking stage we used to push back on her foot and she would kick back in the same spot harder, or just generally keep kicking. After being born she was very aggressive and generally non-cautious.

3rd kid was kind of a moderate in between first 2.

I know it’s anecdotal, but seeing the uniqueness in personality even from such an early age made the nature vs nurture debate so much less theoretical for me. Even though it didn’t change my stance (because I already believed in a mix of influences, nature and nurture), it did seem to show me concretely what the implementation of these ideas actually looks like. It’s one thing to say “50% of personality is genetics”, but it’s a whole different thing to actually see that 50% (or whatever percent) in action as a raw group of tendencies poking through even as you pile on layers of socialization to alter/hide those base tendencies as the kid gets older.