For over a century sociologist have debated whether nature or nurture plays a larger role in human behavior. It was John B. Watson’s article entitled, Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It (1913) (Weibell, C. J., 2011) that first contradicted the belief that human behavior is instinctive, an idea made popular by Charles Darwin’s 1859 study of evolution (Macionis, J., 2007). The advancements in scientific technology, as well as social and psychological research, have only fueled both sides of the debate.
Watson argued that behavior is not instinctive but learned, and therefore people are equally human (Macionis, J., 2007). If Watson’s argument is true, it is our experiences and culture that more strongly define our behavior. A strong argument for Watson’s theory is the study of feral children. In the cases of three girls who endured years of near complete isolation, the children all suffered severe developmental damage. Attempts to rehabilitate the girls resulted in some improvements, but the damage to their language and social skills proved to be permanent.
Further proof that nurture influences human behavior can be found in Harry and Margaret Harlow’s experiment with rhesus monkeys conducted in 1962 (Macionis, J., 2007). Their experiment consisted of three groups of monkeys, each subjected to varying degrees of isolation. The monkeys that endured the most isolation, showed the most severe developmental damage. Those who were moderately isolated showed developmental damage that left them unable to interact with other monkeys. The third group was given an artificial mother wrapped in a soft covering, which they clung to for comfort. When introduced to a group these monkeys showed less social development damage, resulting in the conclusion that the comfort, or nurture, they received from the artificial mother benefited their development. Based on their research, the Harlow’s determined infant monkeys could recover from up to 3 months of isolation, any longer and the damage was irreversible (Macionis, J., 2007).
Undoubtedly, nature also plays a roll in human behavior. Our biology largely determines our physical traits, our intellectual capacity, our talents, and even some of our personality traits. Those that believe nature plays a predominate roll in human behavior likely prescribe to the notion that people are born with a predisposition to behave a certain way. This theory would argue people are born moral, born immoral, born competitive, born intelligent, or born unintelligent. Evidence to support this theory can be found in the research of Han Brunner. Brunner, a Dutch geneticist, discovered a genetic link to violent behavior. His research, published in 1993, shows that a genetic defect on the X chromosome results in an MAOA deficiency, this deficiency was then shown to result in an increase in violent behavior and mental retardation (Richardson, 1993).
Given what I know of both nature and nurture, I believe both play an important role in human behavior. However, I feel nurture has a larger impact on who we become. Nurture has the ability to compensate for nature’s shortcomings, for instance, schooling increasing a person’s intelligence. Conversely, a lack of nurture has been proven to adversely affect a person’s development so severely, they lose all ability to function in a manner we recognize as human.
There are thirty-one states which currently allow the death penalty in the United States (“31 States with the Death Penalty and 19 States with Death Penalty Bans – Death Penalty – ProCon.org”, 2016). Of the G7 nations, the United States is the only one that allows capital punishment. The majority of Asian nations support the death penalty, none more so than China which executes more prisoners than the rest of the world combined, while the only European nation to still allow capital punishment is Belarus (Rogers & Chalabi, 2018). In Africa, the majority of nations still allow the practice of capital punishment, however, the number of executions carried out in Sub-Saharan Africa has decreased by 49% in the past year (Popoola, 2017). In Latin America, including the Caribbean and South America, only six nations still allow capital punishment (Oliver Smith, 2018).
Despite the waning popularity of the death penalty throughout much of the world, it is my opinion that the United States should expand the practice of capital punishment in the case of murder to all fifty states. The research showing the impact of both nature and nurture on human development supports the necessity of the death penalty. Brunner’s research has shown that individuals can be born with a predisposition to violence and the Harlow’s experiment has shown prolonged neglect in childhood results in irreversible damage. Thus, murders who possess the genetic predisposition, or who have been subject to prolonged neglect as children cannot be rehabilitated. In these cases, I believe the death penalty is both justified and necessary to protect the citizens of the United States.