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Nature or Nurture? Neither, both.


There is a long-held idea that human development is driven primarily by EITHER nature (our genes) OR nurture (our environment). This is an outdated concept. Development isn't black and white, but rather a complex interplay between BOTH our genes and our experiences. “Epigenetics” is an emerging area of research that shows our environment & experiences affect how our genes are expressed.

This means the old idea that genes are “set in stone” has been disproven. Nature vs. Nurture is no longer a debate. It’s nearly always both! During development, the DNA that makes up our genes gathers special chemical ‘marks’ that determine how much or little of the genes is expressed. In essence, our environment and experiences change how/if our genes release the information that they carry. This explains why identical twins, who are genetically the same, might have different health outcomes, behaviours & skills.

Our experiences can affect our genes in both positive and negative ways. Positive experiences, such as supportive & loving relationships or exciting opportunities for learning may influence the way our brain processes new information. Negative influences, such as environmental toxins or stressful life circumstances, also leave a unique epigenetic “signature” on the genes. Epigenetics is how our early experiences can have lifelong impacts.

Young brains are particularly sensitive to epigenetic changes. That’s why it’s crucial to provide supportive and nurturing experiences for young children in their earliest years. High quality care for pregnant women & infants as well as structured support for new parents and caregivers can (quite literally) affect the chemistry around children’s genes.

References: Murgatroyd & Spengler 2011; Knopik et al 2012; Keating 2016; Meaney 2010

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