This book covers key movements that helped to shape psychology – from the early philosophical debate between rationalism and empiricism or realists and antirealists through to the emergence of psychology as a science and the ongoing debates about ‘objectivity’ and ‘truth’ and what a science of psychology should be. Often nuanced and complex, the author examines major conceptual issues in the history of psychology that continue to be debated and influence public policy and lay understanding. The latter stages of the book explore notions of individuality, hereditarianism, critical psychology, and feminist perspectives. While deeply rooted in human history, it is made clear that psychology, how it is conceived and practiced, has a bearing on our understanding of what it is to be human. Accessible, objective and above all comprehensive, this book will help students locate psychology in the wider field of science and understand the forces that continue to shape and define it.

Nature and Nurture

Nature and Nurture

Learning Objective

This chapter has as its concern a debate that begins with Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton (1822–1911) around the degree to which human psychological functions, especially intelligence, is a matter of biological inheritance or whether experience makes any contribution. It is known as the argument over nature versus nurture. More specifically we will consider:

  • Galton’s dismissal of nurture in favor of eugenics and biological determinism.
  • Intelligence testing and the elimination of human defect.
  • Evolutionary psychology and the explanation of human activity as adaptations to ancient environmental challenges encoded in brain mechanisms.
  • Cultural psychology’s explanations of human conduct in terms of historical, cultural developments and processes.

You should become sensitized to the potential harm that can come from, and is associated with, biological determinism ...

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