Nature versus nurture has been a debate for centuries, even going back to the medieval French. As Francis Galton stated in 1874, “[nature vs. nurture] is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence that affects him after his birth.” If only Galton knew that this controversial battle is still present in all kinds of research today.
Nature vs nurture is concerned with how particular features of our personality and behaviors have arisen, whether that be from genetics and hereditary factors or acquired influences that have been learned throughout one’s life. Individuals who stand on the more genetic side of the debate are known as nativists, believing that the characteristics of human beings are solely the result of evolution. However, those who stand on the environmental or nurture side of the debate are known as empiricists who believe that the mind at birth is a tabula rasa, or a blank slate.
When trying to understand autism, it certainly would be so simple if there were only a single mechanism behind the disorder, but really genetic and environmental factors are responsible for the neuropathological mechanisms behind autism diagnoses. Nature vs. nurture is a prominent part of the research working to understand how and why individuals develop the disorder.
Most researchers have confidently supported the genetics side of the debate more. Evidence to support their claim mainly stems from twin studies. Usually if one identical twin has autism, the other twin has it too 90% of the time. In one study, the researchers recruited twins who either had ASD or were typically developing (Jones). They completed MRI brain scans and found that there are strong genetic effects on brain structure. However, autism severity among the twins does vary significantly. For example, one boy may be nonverbal, but the other twin can speak clearly and confidently. Professor of psychiatry at WashU, John Constantino, said “It’s almost impossible to believe that identical twins can be so different; it’s remarkable,”. Overall, this information just proves that genetics and the child’s environment are each just as important in general development and in their ASD diagnosis.
What’s really interesting is that both genetics and the environment influence each other. Genetics affect how a person can be influenced by their environment and in turn, the environment can influence genes through epigenetics. So, this needs to be considered too.
To be honest, there will never be a simple “yes or no” answer when asking the question, nature or nurture. Overall, both sides of the argument prove to be valid and there’s no single reason why individuals have autism. There has been more evidence leaning towards a genetic basis, but at the end of the day both genetic theories and environmental theories prevail.
Jones, R. M. (2019, March 6). Nature versus nurture in autism. Science Translational Medicine. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.aaw7626
Wright, J. (2020, January 17). Early life experiences may shift severity of autism. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/early-life-experiences-may-shift-severity-autism/.