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November 30th, 2006

Nature v. Nuture: An Old Debate

Another posting to my social and philosophical foundations of education class.  Yes, teachers discuss many things.  Basically this is a partial synopsis of my anthropology paper "Collapsing Discriminatory Institutions When Considering the Child"

Nature v. Nuture : An Old Debate

This goes into the twin studies that I mentioned in class awhile back. These studies* found a good correlation for twins separated at birth having the same sexual orientation. If one sibling was straight, their twin was too and vice versa. So it should follow that homosexuality is genetic, or natural. But as Dr. Turner emphasized, such studies cannot determine the cause of sexual orientation. Another set of studies* recognized that parental nurturing could not be ignored because parents construct the social and cultural world for their children. If parent's say that being gay is unnatural, then children grow up in a world where heterosexuality is normal. I think this ties into Jennifer's comments about her Dad telling her sister (or niece ... I can't remember which) that dating a black guy is wrong; we cannot ignore the influence of adults on minors, like we, the teachers on our students.

So studies seem to contradict each other, at first. I wrote a paper in Cultural Anthropology about this very subject and found a middle ground. Dr. John Money, a psychiatrist at John Hopkins who was mentioned in one of our assigned readings, said the genetic factor is exaggerated. He argued a point that I think mothers will find very interesting in prenatal care:
[Sexual] development is governed not by the genetic code directly, but by sex hormones that program the sexual differentiation of the brain. ... The evidence from clinical studies supports the hypothesis that there is in human prenatal development a sex-hormonal effect on sexual brain differentiation, but that it does not have a hormonal-robot effect of the described for sheep and other subprimate mammals.
Essentially this is a kind of inbetween nature versus nuture hypothesis -- things aren't set in stone. Of course our genes control many hormonal processes. They determine whether we are male or female as I said in a previous post, but the hormonal levels can change from how they were initially setup. We can change them or our body changes them. Transsexuals change themselves physically, and maybe behaviorally, by taking hormone supplements. Women's hormones change when going through menopause, a natural process of the body -- although supplements can also help mood, aka. behavior --, or women change their hormonal levels when taking some contraceptives, as I understand it. Faking pregnancy or ending menstruation are not directly sexual but both affect physical things related to sex, so I can see something similar for sexual attraction and orientation. But I strongly disagree with calling what happens prenatally a "defect", otherwise we need to call menopause a defect.

So the studies and conclusions I've read indicate that genes and hormones initiate sexual differentiation and attraction at some natural level while socio-cultural context can affect sexual orientation at a nurturing level, including the choice to act on sexual attractions.  Some religiously devout people chose to become asexual, aye?   Heck! studies now say that a person's smell can attract you! so I don't find this a stretch.  All these reasons led me to believe that nature v. nurture is a false dichotomy; it's not just one or the other.

* Note: if you're interested in reading these studies, search scholar.google.com for "Homosexuality in Monozygotic Twins Reared Apart", "The Homosexual Role: A Reconsideration", and "Gender-Transposition Theory and Homosexual Genesis"