The we see another child named Genie

The environment plays a crucial role on our behaviour. Environmental Manipulation is about the circumstances, people, things and events around people that influence their life. The purpose of this paper is to prove the affects environment has on behaviour and whether a person’s behaviour is determined by their upbringing (nurture) or by their genetic characteristics (nature). The research is important because if we were to find that the way someone is, is controlled by genetic factors then changing there behaviour will be extremely difficult. On the other hand if their social background determined someone’s behaviour then it could be far easier to deal with behavioural problems. The essay will begin with the nature-nurture debate. This will be followed by case studies. Learning theories of Piaget and Vygotsky will also be discussed and finally an overall conclusion will follow.


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Nature vs. nurture has been an oscillating controversy in the field of psychology for many years. Does one inherit genes, or does the environment affect one’s genes? The basis of nature is the principle that people have their personalities engraved inside their genes, which are inherited from their parents. The basis of nurture is that the environment plays a big role in the development of a person’s personality. Both nature and nurture, therefore, play a crucial role as the determining factors of one’s intelligence, personality, and behaviour.

Early studies have focused mainly upon the environmental influence, e.g. in the home. More recently there have been moves towards researching biological effects on the roots of behaviour and development. One reason is new technology allows psychologists and physiologists to study the brain in greater detail. There are many approaches to the nature/nurture debate. The biological approach believes people act the way they do because of inheritance. Behaviourists argue for nurture, although the potential for learning is innate. The cognitive approach does not completely side with nurture, as it supports the view that the structure of the mental system is innate.

For my first piece of work I am going to use the film ‘Wild Child’. In the film we see how a feral child is captured and then taken to Paris to be studied by a doctor. We see that once the boy has been moved to Paris he is clearly not like the other children. He is different in many ways such as, he dose not walk straight, does not react to loud noises in the same way as others. While in France Doctor Itar tries to teach the boy how to act like a “normal child” and teach him how to talk, eat etc. The doctor does manage to make him show much more normal actions than originally, though he never talks. This is the most important indication that living in the wild changes how you act and that you can only ever do what you observe or are taught through social interaction.

In the same film we see another child named Genie who was kept in solitary confinement for 13 years tied to a potty chair. She had no books, no radio, and no television. She could move only her hands and feet. She had nothing to do. When she was discovered, she was unable to speak or walk. Although Genie did not speak in a fully developed, normal way, she acquired some language after she was discovered. Her social behaviour remains highly abnormal.

Noam Chomsky believes that human beings are born with a unique competence for language, built into their brains. But he adds that the innate mechanisms that underlie this competence must be activated by exposure to language at the proper time, which Chomsky speculates must occur before puberty. Genie failed to learn the kind of grammatical principles that, according to Noam Chomsky, distinguish the language of human beings from that of animals. For example, she could not grasp the difference between various pronouns, or between active and passive verbs. In that sense, she appeared to suffer from having passed the critical period. (

Vygotsky took a socio cultural view of development that makes social interaction the centre of his theory. Vygotsky believed that through joint activities with more mature members of society, children come to master activities and think in ways that have meaning in their culture. He believed that children learn best when tasks are in their zone of proximal development, a range of tasks that the child cannot yet handle alone but can accomplish with the help of adults and more skilled peers.

This emphasises the role of the adult as a teacher. Vygotsky’s theory was an attempt to explain consciousness as the end product of socialisation. For example, in the learning of language, our first utterances with peers or adults is for the purpose of communication but once mastered they become internalised and allow “inner speech”. (Sutherland, 1992: p43,45,46)