What influences a child’s character, behaviors, and traits has been a subject of much debate and controversy for a long time. Some argue that the behaviors of a child are caused by only hereditary genetics nature. A substantial number is opposed to this claim, arguing that a young one’s personality traits are caused and influenced by the environment in which they reside. For developmental scientists, the debate of nature vs. nurture has been settled for a long time, and professionals have agreed that they both influence how a child develops. For these experts, the discussion has shifted from what is more influential to how the two correlate in a child’s growth and progress. A youngster’s development can take many forms, including prenatal, physical, personality, perceptual, socioeconomic, and cognitive development. Remarkably, the genetic and environmental factors influence the cognitive development of a child.
Overview of Cognitive Development
Before looking at specific arguments of the nature vs. nurture debate, it is essential to get an overview of cognitive development. Nelson (2017) defines cognitive development as the process by which children and adults achieve neurological and psychological growth. Simply put, cognitive development is the expansion of the knowledge of how people think, see things, and act. Cognitive development can be measured by checking the level of a child’s language development, ability to perceive and conceive things, as well as information processing abilities (Eckstein et al., 2017). For a long time, parents have been encouraged to monitor and control their child’s cognitive development, which influences education and real-life settings. Due to the massive debate on the effectiveness of each means, it is essential to study how nature and nurture influence this development.
Jean Piaget’s development theory demonstrates cognitive development, which proposes that a child’s growth is continuous and follows four stages. They include the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete, and formal operational (Babakr et al., 2019; Lumentut & Lengkoan, 2021). All people do not achieve the last stage even in their adults due to their cognitive abilities. These universal stages follow the same order everywhere, although some may take longer for particular people. According to the theory, a child’s cognitive development is influenced by inborn capabilities, genetic makeup, and environmental conditions.
How Nurture Influences Cognitive Development of a Child
The environment through which a child develops influences their cognitive development either positively or negatively. For instance, children who actively participate in physical activities experience differing mental growth from those who do not (Bidzan-Bluma & Lipowska, 2018). This environment is referred to as nurture; it includes all environmental variables that affect an individual in early childhood. Some of these variables are the parents, the community, and the culture. The nurture hypothesis can be explained better using John Bowlby’s attachment theory formulated by John Bowlby’s therapist and psychoanalyst. In this theory, Bowlby states that humans are born with innate programming to attach themselves to others who will help them survive (Slade, 2018). According to the attachment theory, children are more likely to remain attached to caregivers who are proximal to them and those who consistently remain responsive to their social needs. It is through this link that a child learns various behaviors and traits.
The choice of a caretaker who a child chooses to associate themselves with could have both a negative and positive outcome. If, for example, a child is attached to a caregiver who lacks reasonable moral grounds, these behaviors are more likely to be transferred to the child (Yue, 2018). On a positive note, though, if the caregiver has positive attributes, such as a good educational background, the child will bring up will likely be good in class. This argument can be evidenced by the fact that learned parents produce educated children, although there is an opinion that this outcome is contributed by genetics and the environment. The environment a child grows in can have both positive and negative impacts on them. The type of impact will depend on the environment as well as the child’s nature.
How Nature Influences Cognitive Development of a Child
The cognitive development process of a child is influenced by genes that are passed from parents to siblings. Physical developmental attributes such as height, weight, skin color, and eye color are the most identifiable of these attributes. Cognitive features can also be observed as most are influenced by the inherited neural capabilities of the parent. It should be important to understand that although nature is inherited, some aspects of genetic makeup which influence a child’s nature are influenced by the environment. The factors that cause changes in a person include diet, temperature, and diseases. Scientists have found that despite nature playing a critical role in a child’s cognitive development, it cannot act without the help of nurture (Soenens et al., 2017). Thus, nature relies on nurture making it the lesser of the two. The genetics a child inherits could also have a negative or positive impact. The impact’s direction relies on the genetics transferred and those that a child is born with as a result of mutation.
The influence of nature on a child’s cognitive development can be explained using schemas introduced by Jean Piaget in his theory. According to the theory, a schema is a set way that the brain uses to gain, store, retrieve and cause repeatable actions (Tangen & Borders, 2017). An example of a schema is the process through which a person does a particular action, say, buying an item from a store. The process the person uses to shop is likely to be repeated. Genetically, people have different schemas, and some are more able than others. Thus, people who have grown up in the same environment could still have differing cognitive behaviors due to these schemas. Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stage theory is also appropriate for explaining how genetic factors influence cognitive development. Freud suggests that parents are always trying to cognitively change their children’s aggressive drives to ensure their development.
Case Study of Nature’s Influence on Cognitive Development
For a long time, it was assumed that a child’s genetic makeup is fixed, and thus, its impact on a child’s development. However, it has been discovered that the genetic makeup of an infant is constantly changing, thus changing the direction of the nature vs. nurture debate. Nonetheless, a person’s genetic makeup influences how they are likely to develop in all forms, including cognitive development. The Colorado Adoption Project, in which 182 adopted children were studied against 165 non-adopted children, showed that despite growth in the same environment, children who were adopted were likely to demonstrate different traits from those of their parents (Brown et al., 2017). The research concluded that both nature and nurture are important to a child’s development.
The effects of the environment on a child’s cognitive behavior can be shown by conducting twin studies. Research conducted by the Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS) found that fathers who showed antisocial cognitive behaviors were more likely to have antisocial sons. Almost identical results extrapolated whether the sons grew close to their parents or not. The MFTS research team also found that twins who grew up in different locations could be identical to twins who had grown up together. This discovery leads to the conclusion that genetic factors influence the development of a child. The study also found that when it comes to IQ, genetic influence had a greater impact than environmental influence.
Those that argue that the development of a child is caused by nature, nurture, or both are all correct. All forms of development, including cognitive development, rely on both the environment and genetics, as Jean Piaget puts it in his cognitive development theory. Rather than debating how environment and genetics affect a child’s development, developmental scientists should focus more on how they should interlink them for the best outcome. As to how nature influences the cognitive development of a child, John Bowlby’s Attachment theory shows humans must have others to act as a guide to them. On the other hand, the famous Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual stage theory explain how nurture brings about cognitive development in a child. Case studies prove the factor that both nature and nurture influence the genetic development of a child.
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Bidzan-Bluma, I., & Lipowska, M. (2018). Physical Activity and Cognitive Functioning of Children: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(4), 800.
Brown, A., Waters, C. S., & Shelton, K. H. (2017). A systematic review of the school performance and behavioral and emotional adjustments of children adopted from care. Adoption & Fostering, 41(4), 346-368.
Eckstein, M. K., Guerra-Carrillo, B., Singley, A. T. M., & Bunge, S. A. (2017). Beyond eye gaze: What else can eye tracking reveal about cognition and cognitive development? Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 25, 69-91.
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Slade, A. (2018). The place of fear in attachment theory and psychoanalysis: the fifteenth John Bowlby Memorial Lecture. In J. Yedlin, O. B. Epstein (Eds.), Terror Within and Without (pp. 39-57). Routledge.
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Tangen, J. L., & Borders, L. D. (2017). Applying information processing theory to supervision: An initial exploration. Counselor Education and Supervision, 56(2), 98-111.
Yue, A., Gao, J., Yang, M., Swinnen, L., Medina, A., & Rozelle, S. (2018). Caregiver depression and early child development: A mixed-methods study from rural China. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2500.