Imagine Health

Are People Born Evil?

The debate of ‘Nurture V’s Nature’ has been going around and around for many years. This debate questions the amount to which certain traits are a product of either inherited (i.e. genetic) or acquired (i.e. learned) characteristics. Nature can be defined as the ‘pre-wiring’ and is influenced by genetic and biological factors. Nurture is commonly taken as the influence of external factors after birth e.g. exposure, experience and learning. This explanation is often used to figure out if people can truly be born evil.

Genetics (nature), has been shown to be a key factor in some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression. For example, bipolar, is ‘four to six times more likely to develop when there is a family history of the condition’. Research has shown a rather large genetic factor for both narcissism and psychopathy in identical and non-identical twins. Nevertheless, it is clear that genetic factors play an important role in the development of mental health conditions, but it is not contributing factor.

Certain genes individuals have, may make them more susceptible towards a particular illness, but the likelihood that an individual will develop that illness is influenced by, in part, on the environment (nurture). Direct positive (nurturing) behaviour can influence a mental health condition so that it may not develop at all, or may be less severe. Research has shown that the strongest predictor of a mental health condition was life experiences, such as bullying, abuse, or other trauma. The second predictor was a family history of mental health conditions. Thus, supporting the idea of nurture’s significant role in the development of mental health issues.

Many years ago, Professor Stanley Milgram researched how some people will harm others when asked to do so. Milgram concluded that humans are programmed to obey orders, no matter how what the order. However, some research suggests Milgram’s conclusions were wrong. Were the participants causing harm to others because they were inherently evil? Or were they influenced to carry out these acts because they believed they were participating in a science experiment? This would justify their actions and make them happy follow the order. Although, would they have acted differently outside of the experiment?

Nowadays it could be said that in truth, hardly anyone accepts either of the extreme positions.  There is evidence for both sides of the argument which are inconsistent with an “all or nothing” belief. It could be said that we are all born, hardwired to be kind. And while help from our environment and background will help to improve this chance, some of our “kindness” is what we were born with. Both nature and nurture are always working together to influence all our traits.

By Alannagh Kelly