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The Nature-Nurture Debate

5. Gene-Environment Interaction

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In this lecture, we think about a specific example of human behaviour, social anxiety, and look at how we might explain it with nature- and nurture-based influences, focusing in particular on: (i) defining social anxiety and differentiating between a clinical diagnosis of social anxiety and feeling anxious in social situations; (ii) the first of the three explanations as nativist (nature-focussed), proposing that one might inherit a genetic vulnerability to psychological distress (psychopathology); (iii) the potential outcome of this being a clinical diagnosis of social anxiety in the face of a specific negative life event; (iv) some research which has indicated that the maintenance of behavioural inhibition present in young children is a predictor of social anxiety in later life; (v) the stability of this trait throughout life, which means it can be helpful in evaluating the relative contributions of nature and nurture to developing social anxiety; (vi) the second, nurture-based explanation, citing that many sufferers of social anxiety report intrusive, negative mental images of them performing badly in a social situation, often as exaggerated versions of real events; (vii) the fact that social anxiety prevalence has been found to be more common in individualistic than in collectivist cultures, attributed to success being centred around the individual rather than the group; (viii) the third explanation as being centred around differing parenting styles, describing how this has been evidenced as a contributor to social anxiety prevalence; (ix) examples of passive and active correlations between behavioural inhibition, parenting style and social anxiety; (x) the conclusion that the nature-nurture debate will never see completion, because human traits will always be formulated by a combination of both factors.


In this course, Dr Lydia Kearney (University of Kent) explores the nature ‘versus’ nurture debate in psychology. In the first lecture, we preface the course by proposing the removal of ‘versus’, predicated on the origin of any human behaviour being too complicated to be explained by just one set of factors. In the second lecture, we take a deep dive into the nature side of this debate, introducing Mendelian genetics and explaining the concept of heritability. In the third lecture, we explore the nurture side of this debate, outlining a timeline, from the ancient philosophers who proposed the tabula rasa, to modern research on environmental factors that impact aggressive tendencies. Next, we bring in a modern perspective on the interactions between environmental and genetic factors when explaining phenotype expression. In the fifth and final lecture, social anxiety is used to exemplify how environmental and genetic factors, as well as their interactions, can predict the prevalence and experience of the condition.


Dr Lydia Kearney is Deputy School Director of Education in the School of Psychology at the University of Kent. Dr Kearney’s research areas of interest are social anxiety and experiences of mental imagery, particularly how the two interact and impact attention and interpretation biases. Some of Dr Kearney’s recent publications include 'Observer perspective imagery in social anxiety: effects on negative thoughts and discomfort' (2011) and 'The intra and interpersonal effects of observer and field perspective imagery in social anxiety' (2013).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Kearney, L. (2021, December 13). The Nature-Nurture Debate - Gene-Environment Interaction [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Kearney, L. "The Nature-Nurture Debate – Gene-Environment Interaction." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 04 Jan 2022,

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