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The Nature-Nurture Debate

5. Gene-Environment Interaction

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This fifth and final lecture brings in a specific example of human behaviour, social anxiety, and looks at how we might explain it with nature- and nurture-based influences. Dr Kearney begins by defining social anxiety and differentiating between a clinical diagnosis of social anxiety and feeling anxious in social situations. The first of the three explanations outlined is this lecture is nativist (nature-focussed). According to this, one might inherit a genetic vulnerability to psychological distress (psychopathology), one potential outcome of which being a clinical diagnosis of social anxiety in the face of a specific negative life event. Looking at specific traits, some research has indicated that the maintenance of behavioural inhibition present in young children is a predictor of social anxiety in later life. Due to the stability of this trait throughout life, it can be helpful in evaluating the relative contributions of nature and nurture to developing social anxiety. The second, nurture-based explanation introduced, cites 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. In addition, 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 in the former. The third explanation centres around differing parenting styles, describing how this has been evidenced as a contributor to social anxiety prevalence. The last part of this lecture brings together examples of passive and active correlations between behavioural inhibition, parenting style and social anxiety. Dr Kearney concludes 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. The first lecture prefaces 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. The second lecture takes a deep dive into the nature side of this debate, introducing Mendelian genetics and explaining the concept of heritability. The third lecture explores 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. The fourth lecture brings in a modern perspective on the interactions between environmental and genetic factors when explaining phenotype expression. The fifth and final lecture uses Dr Kearney’s research specialism of social anxiety 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 a lecturer and Deputy School Director of Education in the School of Psychology at the University of Kent. Dr Kearney’s main areas of interest are social anxiety and experiences of mental imagery, particularly how the two interact and impact attention and interpretation biases. Dr Kearney’s recent research has included investigations of the links between imagery and rumination/emotion, incorporating mixed qualitative and quantitative methods.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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

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