To What Extent is Human Behaviour Genetically Determined?
By: Mehroz Maitla
Humans like other living beings inherit genes, encoded in which are traits such as eye colour and height. Research of some socio-biologists, along with recent breakthroughs in evolutionary psychology, suggests that these genes also form tendencies of behavior in human beings. Unlike other living things, humans live in complex societies and influence each other through interaction. The fact that these encoded tendencies are expressed in social situations only, substantiates that human behavior is not only determined by genetics, and socialization plays an important role too.
Charles Darwin’s work on the Theory of Evolution laid the foundations of evolutionary psychology, which emphasize that social instincts are evolved by natural selection and are passed on to the next generation, he says: “Natural selection acts solely through preservation of variations in some way advantageous, which consequently endures (Darwin 1905)”. E. O. Wilson referred to the phenomena as “sociobiology” in his book “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” and urged that even “abstract traits such as intelligence, personality, aggressiveness and sexual orientation may also be inherited (Blundell 2014)”. Biological determinists argue that socialization has no influence on determining human behavior and that it is governed by laws that are established by biological drives or social instincts, inherited by a person. Francis Galton has referred to the idea that two genetically identical twins raised in the same social environment are likely to show resemblance in behavior. Some sociobiologists have even used biological differences between men and women to explain the domestic division of labor, according to the functionalist point of view.
Sociologists on the other hand argue that human behavior is determined by the society and culture they are socialized into. While we do inherit tendencies, the way we respond to them depends on the norms and values of the culture we are socialized into; for example, a person who is encoded with genes that correspond to aggressive behaviour may not show it at all if he/she is socialized into a culture where such behaviour is considered a serious offence. The importance of socialization in determining human behaviour is further emphasized by the studies on feral and isolated children – such children are either not socialised into human societies (feral) or had very little human contact (isolated); these children have problems in communicating and interacting with others and, hence, cannot fit into society. By pointing out the examples of “Mbuti pygmies” and other societies, Ann Oakley argued that domestic division of labour is not a natural or biological phenomenon, but it is a sociological issue. Biological determinants may explain the genetic context of abstract traits such as sex drive, but they cannot explain the range of human responses to it, e.g., celibacy and homosexuality.
In conclusion, biological determinism fails to explain the diversity of human responses to the encoded social instincts and biological drives; however, it should be acknowledged that a person with certain social instincts is more likely to execute them than a person lacking them, provided that they are both nurtured in the same environment. Hence, human behaviour is determined both by nature (genetics) and nurture (social environment).