Modern medical thinking posits that many of our characteristics are genetically determined. Whether we can maximise the potential of these characteristics comes down to developing experiences and knowledge. Effectively, the structure of our brains is decided by a genetics, but that doesn’t negate the importance of the information we process and how our brains respond to it. In fact, the line between nature and nurture seems to be blurring as more research develops around this subject.
Brain development and genes
There are roughly 22,000 genes within a human body, and we find we share a similar amount and even some of the same genes with animals and some plants actually have a greater amount of genes than us. Genetically, there’s little difference between us and chimpanzees, and even mice. Yet it’s clear that we’re different creatures. So just how important can genes be? What genes do is code the development of enzymes that create the raw materials necessary for our brain development over time. Environmental influences also start affecting brain development almost immediately, and even in the womb, food and hormones involving the mother can impact the foetus’ development.
Brain growth and development factors
With the growth of the brain, it’s not just the development of cells that are important, it’s also how these cells interact with each other and start forming connections. All our thoughts and feelings are the products of different brain cells communicating with each other to form unique neurological pathways. Congenial growth factors are predicated on our DNA, but the direction these factors develop themselves in is the result of environmental stimuli. When it comes to learning difficulties like autism and ADHD, the causes are based on conflicting growth patterns as wired genetically, so there’s a congenital factor at play. However, this also goes for other conditions such as schizophrenia and depression, which can often be mitigated by environmental factors to the point that the symptoms won’t necessarily manifest themselves. So as we can see, it remains a game of two halves to see just what dictates our cognitive capacity.
Studying and brain development
The brain starts to develop fastest following the period immediately after birth. This is why the first few years of a baby’s life are so crucial for its development. You’ll need to stimulate a child a lot in this period to help the language centres in its brain development during this important time. After a child’s third year, the brain stops growing. Obviously, however, the child continues to learn at an exponential rate. The brain itself isn’t growing anymore, but new pathways are developing and changes in interneuron contacts continue to develop.
Nurture and nature
As we can see, the answer to whether learning capacity is nature or nurture lies somewhere between the two. What we can identify as a work ethic or self-discipline is largely a learned affair, but factors like memory recall and numeracy may well be impacted by congenital factors. Ultimately, the question itself is ill-conceived, as the answer lies somewhere between the two.
Author: Anabel Cooper