The XX Factor

Not the Genes or the Folks: Ending (Thank You!) the Nature vs. Nurture Debate

A team of brave scientists from the University of Iowa has dared to attempt to end the great nature vs. nurture debate. Parents everywhere, sick of reading article after article either blaming them for bad behavior or informing them that their influence is all for naught, should gather outside the lab to sing and hold banners. Isn’t it a relief to finally see some scientists announce that “development involves a complex system in which genes and environmental factors constantly interact”?

As a biological and adoptive parent, I’d just like to say: Duh.

I’ve read headlines declaring that kids are influenced only by their peers, and parents may as well abandon them at birth on an island of wild pigs. Other studies suggest that traits like shyness are all in the genes, leaving parents with no hope of helping a reluctant kid learn to make friends. And I’ve seen, again and again, studies showing that parents have less influence over the lives of adopted children than over those of their biological kids. All of these studies make me want to throw up my hands. If it were as simple as any of that, we would have long since reduced parenting to a science and be going about our days, easily doing exactly what’s right for every kid.

We relatively new parents get sucked easily into the those articles or teaser stories for the evening news that offer what the UI team calls “clean and simple and sexy” sound-bites about research studies. The UI researchers systematically examined some of those tempting studies and found exactly what our own parents probably could have told us: that there’s probably more to the story.

Image of DNA by Jason Reed/Getty Images.