Nature versus Nurture


Along with the alpha vs. beta divide another popular topic in PUAsphere and HBSsphere is nature versus nurture. Are alphas born (nature) or made (nurture)? Is intelligence genetic (nature) or environmental (nurture)?

Like most questions, there is no simple answer.

Any complex system (societies, markets, or personality development) will be full of feedback loops. This feedback may be positive (amplify the prior effect) or negative (dampen the prior effect). At each iteration the system is influenced by its own reactions as well as forces outside the system. Positive feedback loops may be beneficial (e.g., confidence breeding confidence) or bad (e.g., fear breeding more fear). Negative feedback loops may be beneficial (e.g., the pain of loss reducing future excessive risk taking) or negative (e.g., the pain of loss reducing future worthwhile risk taking).

Nature defines your starting point but it can also define your sensitivity to various feedback. Because it defines your starting point it will also define the feedback you will receive. Your sensitivity to feedback defines your next move and your next move will generate feedback that you will react to. Like any chaotic (non linear) system the results are unpredictable even if they appear coherent (unlike this article).

To use an example let us imagine two boys. One is born slightly introverted and more cerebral, the other slightly extraverted and more physical. There is not a large difference between them (neither is very extraverted or introverted, neither is very skillful or particularly clumsy).

The first boy (introvert cerebral) does play sport but finds he is rarely the best. Most of the other boys seem to play better than he does. He is never first pick when choosing teams. Not having any particular drive to excel in sport he finds himself dropping out of the sports teams. Because he plays and practices less he, of course, does not improve. By his teens, the sports playing boys are much faster and more agile (because of all that practice). As an introvert, he avoided some of the louder or larger social events but did enjoy hanging out with a small group of friends. This meant he did not develop the skills of social interaction and had a smaller social network. Because he enjoyed reading, he found study less taxing than many of his classmates. The quiet time in his room or library was easy for him. His quiet temperament made him popular with the teachers. Good references from teachers and good (but not stellar) academics meant that was able to enter a decent college. He obtained an engineering degree and five years later was in a well paying and secure job with a component manufacture. The job is nine-to-five and involves little travel. He recently bought a three bedroomed house in a good suburb.
[A secure engineering job in the USA. This is obviously fiction).

The second boy (extravert sportsman) finds schoolwork dull. He does enough to get by, but is no scholastic star. He finds that he has some talent in sport. He enjoys it and is willing to put in the practice. He becomes a valued (although not star) member of the football team. He enjoys social events and builds a large network of friends. And while he struggles with schoolwork he has enough friends to help. His dedication in sports and participation in the various social clubs get him good references (despite his mediocre scholastics). He too ends up at a good college. He continues to play sport and is popular with his classmates. He joins the “best” frat and soon is a leader there. He obtains a degree in marketing (with reasonable GPA). He joins the sales department of a local company. Due to his social skills and good network, he becomes one of their most good and consistent salesmen. Within five years, he is leader of the sales team (he still loves to go out on calls himself). With his commissions and bonus he earns a good salary. His job involves a lot of travel and has no set hours. He recently bought an apartment in the city because that provides him access to the local social scene.

The above (somewhat boring, I have to admit) scenarios are an attempt to demonstrate how nature (how they were born) and nurture (what they did) can affect outcomes even with small starting differences. The illustration also shows that one path is not necessarily better. It is difficult to say who is better off or happier. Both would probably find the other’s life intolerable. Both are probably quiet happy with their own life. They both might envy aspects of the other’s life.

2 Responses to “Nature versus Nurture”

  1. In Mala Fide | Linkage is Good for You: Hypocrisy Edition Says:

    […] Default User – “The Three Pillars of Alpha“, “Nature Versus Nurture” […]

  2. Nature or Nurture « Default User Says:

    […] old question: Nature or nurture? Fixed or fluid? Blank slate or paint by numbers? Yeah, I know I have written on this before. Following my when-metaphors-attack style post yesterday, I thought I would try another attempt at […]

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