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Determinism, Biological

Determinism, Biological

❶In an experiment designed by psychologist Susan Mineka and colleagues , infant rhesus monkeys were exposed to one of two videotaped scenarios, one depicting a monkey reacting in terror to a snake, the other depicting a monkey reacting in terror to flowers. Dubner and Steven D.

Early theories and applications

Multifaceted diseases
Determinism, Genetic

Certain physical features, such as high cheekbones or a prominent eyebrow ridge, were often said to be indicative of criminal tendencies. With the growing acceptance of Mendelian genetics in the first half of the 20th century, most theories of biological determinism viewed undesirable traits as originating in defective genes.

With the revolution in molecular genetics during the second half of the century, defective genes became identified with altered sequences of the molecule of heredity, deoxyribonucleic acid DNA. For much of its history, biological determinism was applied to what were widely perceived to be negative traits.

Examples included physical traits such as cleft palate , clubfoot, dwarfism, and gigantism as well as social and psychological conditions such as criminality, feeblemindedness, pauperism, shiftlessness, promiscuity, bipolar disorder , and hyperactivity.

Whereas many researchers agreed that physical defects likely arise from genetic anomalies , the claim that all psychological disorders and socially unacceptable behaviours are inherited was controversial. That was partly due to the difficulty of obtaining rigorous data about the genetics of such traits. However, it was also due to an increasing knowledge of the abilities of various factors, such as chemicals in the environment , to interact with genetic elements.

Teasing apart the genetic and environmental causes of psychological and behavioral conditions remains an exceptionally challenging task. One of the most prominent movements to apply genetics to understanding social and personality traits was the eugenics movement, which originated in the late 19th century.

Eugenics was coined in by British explorer and naturalist Francis Galton , who was influenced by the theory of natural selection developed by his cousin, Charles Darwin. Eugenicists believed that society was deteriorating through the increased reproduction of the disabled, particularly the mentally disabled. Various forms of inherited mental disability were said to be the root cause of social problems as varied as crime, alcoholism, and pauperism in all cases, it was claimed that low mental ability led to an inability to cope in a complex society, resulting in a turn to antisocial behaviours.

Individuals with slightly below average IQ scores typically were ranked as genetically disabled, even though they were not actually disabled at all; many, rather, were disadvantaged. In the absence of genetic testing , little sound evidence could be provided in support of the notion that such cases were genetically determined. Sterilization laws were introduced in the s in the United States and in the s in Germany.

More than half of U. In the early s it was revealed that thousands of people had been subjected to involuntary sterilization in the United States. Many more had experienced the same in Germany and other countries. One of the major consequences of widespread belief in biological determinism is the underlying assumption that if a trait or condition is genetic, it cannot be changed. However, the relationship between genotype the actual genes an individual inherits and phenotype what traits are observable is complex.

For example, cystic fibrosis CF is a multifaceted disease that is present in about 1 in every 2, live births of individuals of European ancestry. The disease is recessive, meaning that in order for it to show up phenotypically, the individual must inherit the defective gene, known as CFTR , from both parents. More than 1, mutation sites have been identified in CFTR , and most have been related to different manifestations of the disease.

However, individuals with the same genotype can show remarkably different phenotypes. Some will show early onset, others later onset; in some the kidney is most afflicted, whereas in others it is the lungs.

In some individuals with the most common mutation the effects are severe, whereas in others they are mild to nonexistent. Although the reasons for those differences are not understood, their existence suggests that both genetic background and environmental factors such as diet play important roles. In other words, genes are not destiny, particularly when the genetic basis of a condition is unclear or circumstantial but also even in cases where the genetic basis of a disability can be well understood, such as in cystic fibrosis.

With modern genomics the science of understanding complex genetic interactions at the molecular and biochemical levels , unique opportunities have emerged concerning the treatment of genetically based disabilities, such as type I diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and sickle-cell anemia. Those opportunities have centred primarily on gene therapy , in which a functional gene is introduced into the genome to repair the defect, and pharmacological intervention, involving drugs that can carry out the normal biochemical function of the defective gene.

Social attitudes about what constitutes a disability, and how economic and social resources are to be allocated to deal with disabilities, change over time. Arguments for biological determinism have long been employed more to restrict than to expand human potential. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.

You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind. Your contribution may be further edited by our staff, and its publication is subject to our final approval. Modern nativism did not emerge until Charles Darwin — proposed in that, through natural selection , humans are descended from other life forms.

In the social sciences, initial support for nativism was provided by William James — , who argued that humans have more instincts than animals, thus shattering the dichotomy between instinct and reason.

At that time it was believed that animals were instinctive and unintelligent, whereas humans were rational and intelligent. The pendulum swung back to empiricism when behaviorism, a new paradigm in psychology, emerged and endorsed domain-general learning through simple conditioning procedures as the source of all knowledge. Psychology, anthropology, and sociology endorsed this position for much of the twentieth century.

Contrasting genetically determined versus environmentally determined explanations of behavior is analogous to the long-standing debate that incorrectly pits nature genes, instincts, adaptations, biology against nurture environment, experience, general learning mechanisms, culture. Anthropologist Edward Hagen argues, however, that nature is a product of nurture, and that nurture is a product of nature.

To illustrate this statement, one must examine evolution through natural selection. Hagen compares natural selection to a learning algorithm that uses information from the environment to select gene combinations that aid in reproduction.

These gene combinations are stored in the genome as this learned information forms the basis of an adaptation. Because adaptations are the product of environmental influences, and are designed by natural selection over evolutionary history, it would be uninformed to discuss genes or adaptations without knowledge of the context in which they evolved. In this way, nature is a product of nurture. At the same time, nurture is a product of nature. It is unlikely that a truly blank-slate version of the mind would be able to learn anything from the environment.

This was the nativist argument advanced by anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides regarding the functional design of the mind. Tooby and Cosmides argued that learning and behavior depend on content-dependent information processing mechanisms and that once a specialized psychological architecture is in place, adaptive challenges can be met with ease. All humans have a universal, species-typical mind, in the same way that all humans have a universal, species-typical physical anatomy.

One way to illustrate this universal architecture is to examine fear. In an experiment designed by psychologist Susan Mineka and colleagues , infant rhesus monkeys were exposed to one of two videotaped scenarios, one depicting a monkey reacting in terror to a snake, the other depicting a monkey reacting in terror to flowers. Monkeys that viewed the tape showing the reaction to a snake quickly acquired a fear of snakes, but monkeys that viewed the tape showing the same reaction to flowers did not acquire a fear of flowers.

It appears that humans also are prepared to learn quickly which features in the environment are threatening and ignore those features that are not. Common phobias in humans include spiders, darkness, and snakes, all of which were adaptive threats in ancestral environments.

Learning is not an explanation of behavior, but behavior requiring explanation. The explanation lies in an evolved psychology and the specific problems this psychology has been designed to solve.

Psychologist Paul Ekman demonstrated that disgust is an emotion that is experienced universally, and the facial expression showing disgust is a reaction that is recognized universally by others.

Paul Rozin and April Fallon hypothesized that disgust is a human adaptation designed to prevent parasites and disease from entering the body. Rotten meat is disgusting to all humans because if consumed it would probably lead to illness.

Many species of flies, however, find rotten meat appealing because flies have different evolved mechanisms. Not all cues are as obvious to the human senses as rotten meat, however.

With thousands of potentially edible fruits and plants, it would have been beneficial to use the reactions of others when deciding what to eat, rather than relying on a trial-and-error learning system. If a harmful substance is sensed, the body will expel and withdraw from the substance and the disgust face will be made.

Other individuals will benefit from this disgust reaction only if they are equipped to pair the disgust face to the disgusting substance, and learn to avoid it. Again, learning is guided by a universal psychological architecture and explained according to the adaptive challenges it has been designed to solve. If all humans have the same design of the mind, does that mean human behavior is genetically determined?

Adaptations have a genetic basis. However, Hagen argues that because the mind contains many adaptations, all of which respond to cues in the environment, the mind could encompass an enormous number of states with an enormous number of behavioral outcomes. Because humans have an evolved fear of snakes does not mean that everyone is destined to fear all snakes in all situations.

Many people have an affinity for snakes, even allowing them into their home as pets. Adaptations do not limit behavior, but instead enable behavior and create behavioral flexibility because a larger set of adaptations can respond with a greater array of behavioral outcomes.

Insights from biology, cognitive science, ecology, anthropology, and psychology have been combined to examine genes from an adaptationist perspective in the emerging discipline of evolutionary psychology. Strict genetic determinism is rejected in favor of an account of human behavior that includes both genetic and environmental influences.

The Face of Man: Controversial Issues in Evolutionary Psychology. In The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology , ed. David Buss, — The Principles of Psychology. Animal Learning and Behavior 8: Rozin, Paul, and April E. A Perspective on Disgust.

Tooby, John, and Leda Cosmides. The Psychological Foundations of Culture. In The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture , ed.

Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, 19 — With rising public attention given to the Human Genome Project in the early s, there grew an increased belief in genetic determinism.

Scholars referred to this widespread belief variously as geneticism, the strong genetic principle, genetic essentialism, genetic fatalism, and the gene myth.


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Social determinism is the opposite of biological determinism, but both theories imply a lack of individual control. Biological determinism has been used to explain crime, mental illness, patriarchy, and poverty or to defend eugenics and Social Darwinism.

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Sociology. STUDY. PLAY. Sex. The category an infant is assigned to at birth based upon the appearance of the genitalia. (Refers to biological apparatus) Biological Determinism (Nature) The belief that gender differences are shaped by biological characteristics. Differential Socialization (Nuture).

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Biological determinism refers to the idea that all human behavior is innate, determined by genes, brain size, or other biological attributes. This theory stands in contrast to the notion that human behavior is determined by culture or other social forces. Biological determinism is a theory that tries to explain a person's behaviour and other aspects of life in relation to his or her genetic makeup. This theory was encompasses the work of various prominent scientists such as Mendel, Charles Darwin and Francis Galton.

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Biological determinism, also called biologism or biodeterminism, the idea that most human characteristics, physical and mental, are determined at conception by hereditary factors passed from parent to offspring. Biological determinism can be understood as an early science-based, anthropological approach to understanding criminality. It sprang from the school of criminology known as positivism, which was a significant intellectual shift in criminological though in that it embraced the scientific method as a more effective way of conducting research in the .