Progression of me

from eighty four to now…

The Nature-nurture debate…

on September 12, 2014

As discussed in my previous post, this post is a little different to normal as I am using my blog as the platform for a class assignment. I would love to hear from you all with any feedback and/or comments regarding this! Maybe we can get our own debate happening 😉

How can we measure and evaluate the nature-nurture debate in sport/performance psychology (personality) and what might be the problems or weaknesses with this approach?

Nature vs. Nurture has been an ongoing debate for hundreds of years; although it was Sir Francis Galton in 1869 who first coined the phrase and stated “Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence that affects him after his birth”.  To summarise, he was saying that nature is our genes and what we are born with, whilst nurture is the environment we grow up in and what we do with those genes. But is it as clear-cut as this and how exactly do we measure it?

Looking at the 100-metre sprint could be a perfect example of the nature aspect.  Looking at the history of the 100 metre sprint, we know that very few men of European descent have run this distance in under ten seconds; unlike men of African descent who have been running times under ten seconds since the 1960’s.  We can then compare this with women, who have yet to even break the ten-second time frame at all.  Could it then be said, that “black athletes [are] genetically predetermined to dominate in both sprinting & distance running”? (David Epstein, 2013).  Or that “there are genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition”? (David Epstein 2013).

To truly measure this being a case of nature, genetic testing would need to be done. These type of studies are relatively new and it is difficult to determine at what time frame the testing should take place. For example should testing begin before birth? Then there is the difficulty in deciding who should be tested. You don’t know before birth that someone will be a good runner. The cost involved in genetic testing is more than likely going to be quite significant. Which then leads to the question of who would pay for the testing – the parents or the government? Would children in lower socio-economic areas be unable to be tested?

It is not only questions such as who or what to test but ethical questions too. For one, it is human beings who are being studied. Humans cannot be isolated from the effects of nurture to prove that it is their genes which have given them particular skills/talents. And if certain tests are completed, where would the line be drawn? Where would people stop? What if a parent was told their child had “bad” genes – would they want to fix this? “The significance of good genes in producing successful athletes sheds light on the concept of gene doping or gene alterations and whether this would become commonly accepted in the future. Currently, gene doping to boost athletic ability is strictly forbidden at the Olympic Games but for certain health conditions and diseases, it has been a saviour.” (Euronews article, 2014)

Another way of measuring and evaluating the nature vs nurture debate in general, not specifically in regards to sports and performance psychology, has been to study identical twins. Both fraternal and identical twins have been used for these studies; using twins who have either grown up together in the same environment or who have been raised apart in different environments.

Obviously the studies using identical twins provide a better platform to work off as they share 100% of the same genes. And identical twins who have grown up in different environments (both socioeconomic and cultural) are “believed to provide an ideal analysis of nature and nurture effects” (Keith Davids & Joseph Baker, 2007); however the problem with this type of study is that “these comparisons are almost impossible to achieve in reality” as it is extremely difficult to “obtain ‘pure’ separated twin samples that fit the stringent criteria needed for a good test of genetic and environmental constraints”. (Joseph Baker, 2007) Again this could also raise ethical questions as twins would need to be raised as “science experiments” and may need to be split from families in order to measure nature vs nurture as the number of twins who were already separated would no doubt be extremely small.

There is so much more that could be discussed in regards to the nature-nurture debate and the different ways of measuring it, this really is just the beginning. Studies have come along way, even in the last few decades, although the line between nature and nurture is becoming more blurred as “it is becoming clear that sports performance is the result of interactions among a host of genes and environmental constraints” (K. Davids & J. Baker, 2007).  It does appear that genetic studies will become more common; however as with all genetic testing the number of ethical problems this may raise is quite large. Identical twin studies would be a better option, but again, finding realistic comparisons can be challenging. It will be interesting to see where the studies go from here and how the information can be used to achieve greater results.



The Nature-Nurture Debate in Thirteenth-Century France. 2014. The Nature-Nurture Debate in Thirteenth-Century France. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 7 September 2014].

Nature vs Nurture – BBC Short Doc. – YouTube. 2014. Nature vs Nurture – BBC Short Doc. – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 5 September 2014].

Dai, D. Y., & Coleman, L. J. (2005). Introduction to the special issue on nature, nurture, and the development of exceptional competence. Thousand Oaks: SAGE PUBLICATIONS, INC.

David Epstein, 2013. The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Edition. Current Hardcover.

Are Top Athletes Born or Made? – The Sport In Mind – Sport Psychology . 2014. Are Top Athletes Born or Made? – The Sport In Mind – Sport Psychology . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 9 September 2014].

Born to run? How our genes affect our sporting talent | euronews, Sport. 2014. Born to run? How our genes affect our sporting talent | euronews, Sport. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 September 2014].

Genes, Environment and Sport Performance: why the nature-nurture dualism is no longer relevant | Raquel Pedercini Marinho – 2014. Genes, Environment and Sport Performance: why the nature-nurture dualism is no longer relevant | Raquel Pedercini Marinho – [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 11 September 2014].

Peeters, M. W., Thomis, M. A., Maes, H. H. M., Loos, R. J. F., Claessens, A. L., Vlietinck, R., & Beunen, G. P. (2005). Genetic and environmental causes of tracking in explosive strength during adolescence. Behavior Genetics, 35(5), 551-563. doi:10.1007/s10519-005-5417-z


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