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Why the Topic of Bioethics in Science Classes?

A New Look at an Old Debate

by Carolyn Csongradi


"Nature" And "Nurture" Interact In Sequential Stages:

Certain experiences are crucial to the maturing brain which develops in a series of stages such that the success of the next developmental stage depends upon the previous one. Our inherited nature is augmented by appropriately timed stimulation and the results can be tested behaviorally.

Behavioral observations

In the early 1900's, Piaget was the best known proponent of the hypothesis that children are born with few of the concepts possessed by an adolescent. His ideas were based on a series of elegantly designed experiments which studied how babies and young children acquired the concepts of object, space, and cause and effect. He proposed that children pass through a series of developmental stages where one stage builds upon the other by a process of assimilation followed by accommodation to the realities of the world. The process is largely one of brain maturation with appropriately timed environmental stimulation.

Piaget has been criticized for emphasizing a specific form of thinking which is more relevant to Western cultures. Subsequent experiments have demonstrated that individual stages are achieved in a less step-wise, more continuous fashion over a wider range of ages than he would have predicted. His theories do not always generalize across different content areas. For instance, the same child may show a grasp of the conservation of volume in one situation but not in another.

Another way to look at the interaction between the developing mind and environment has been to study the mother-infant bond. The mother is often considered the infant's first experience with an object from the world. During the 1930's Renee Spitz followed by John Bowlby studied infant deaths in foundling homes and in long term hospitalization. These sterile environments lacked visual and tactile stimulation and although they had adequate care in the strict sense, human contact was notably absent. A significant percentage of these babies died in the first year. In the early 1950's Harry Harlow experimented with social isolation in newborn monkeys which extended from birth to as long as one year. These monkeys were severely socially impaired as a result of the isolation. Such vulnerability was not detected when older animals were isolated.(17)

D.W. Winnicott, a 20th century British psychiatrist, coined the term " good enough mother", theorizing that there was never just an infant, but an infant-mother pair. Babies gain knowledge about objects from their experiences with the mother. If young children are deprived of a nurturing environment, such as in the case of an alcoholic or abusive parent, infants learn that objects come and go unpredictably. He believed this early exposure to the concept of object permanence (or impermanence) continued to influence how these children learned about other real world objects in a skewed way through out their lives.(43) A colleague, Arnold Modell, went one step further by stating the capacity to know and the capacity to love are not separate functions.(22)

While the pre-programmed information for grasping, sucking and orienting toward human faces are instinctual requirements for Piaget's developmental theories, they may become impaired through neglect and abuse by caregivers. Reality is constructed from what we know and what we value as important from experiences occurring at a very early age.

In the developmental model, natural selection has encouraged the brain to be flexible at certain key periods rather than emphasizing an assessment of the environment. The nature based model valued receptors for gathering environmental information. The genes selecting for brain plasticity were less important. While we might reasonably expect to find a gene or genes for instinctual behaviors, the full development of an individual would depend on being exposed to certain stimuli, to establish the basic building blocks for sequential development.


Nature and Nurture Continued:

Nurture Is In Equilibrium With Nature During Critical Periods


Reasoning Processes


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