9.2018-04-18 《Personality》——Nature or Nurture

作者 简单的镜子


   Francis Galton counted many gifted individuals among his relatives, including the evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. So it’s not surprising that Galton was interested in the extent to which abilities are either inborn(天生的) or learned.

   He was the first person to identify “nature” and “nurture” as two separate influences whose effects could be measured and compared, maintaining that these two elements alone were responsible for determining personality. In 1869 he used his own family tree, as well as those of “judges, statesmen, commanders, scientists, literary men… diviners(占卜师), oarsmen(划船能手), and wrestlers”, to research inherited traits for his book Hereditary(遗传的)Genius.

   As predicted, he found more highly talented individuals in certain families than among the general population.
However, he could not safely attribute this to nature alone, as there were also conferred benefits from growing up in a privileged home environment. Galton himself grew up in a wealthy household with access to unusually good educational resources


"Characteristics cling to families."
                ——Francis Galton

A necessary balance

  Galton proposed a number of other studies, including the first large survey by questionnaire, which was sent out to members of the Royal Society to enquire about their interests and affiliations.Publishing his results in English Men of Science, he claimed that where nature and nurture are forced to compete, nature triumphs.

   External influences can make an impression, he says, but nothing can “efface(抹去) the deeper marks of individual character”. However, he insists that both nature and nurture are essential in forming personality, as even the highest natural endowments may be “starved by defective nurture”.

   Intelligence, he says, is inherited, but must be fostered through education.In 1875, Galton undertook a study of 159 pairs of twins.He found that they did not follow the “normal” distribution of similarity between siblings(兄弟姐妹), in which they are moderately alike, but were always extremely similar or extremely dissimilar.

   What really surprised him was that the degree of similarity never changed over time.He had anticipated that a shared upbringing would lessen dissimilarity between twins as they grew up, but found that this was not the case.Nurture seemed to play no role at all.The “nature–nurture debate” continues to this day.

  Some people have favoured Galton’s theories, including his notion – now known as eugenics(优生学) – that people could be “bred” like horses to promote certain characteristics.Others have preferred to believe that every baby is a tabula rasa(白板), or “blank slate”, and we are all born equal.

   Most psychologists today recognize that nature and nurture are both crucially important in human development, and interact in complex ways.


   Galton’s study of twins looked for resemblances in many ways, including height, weight, hair and eye colour, and disposition. Handwriting was the only aspect in which twins always differed.





  • 1690 British philosopher John Locke proposes that the mind of every child is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, and hence we are all born equal.
  • 1859 Biologist Charles Darwin suggests that all human development is the result of adaptation to the environment.
  • 1890 William James claims that people have genetically inherited individual tendencies, or “instincts”.


  • 1925 Behaviourist John B. Watson says there is “no such thing as inheritance of capacity, talent, temperament, or mental constitution”.
  • 1940s Nazi Germany seeks to create a “master Aryan race” through eugenics.



   Sir Francis Galton was a polymath(博学的人) who wrote prolifically(多产地) on many subjects, including anthropology, criminology(犯罪学) (classifying fingerprints), geography, meteorology(气象学), biology, and psychology. Born in Birmingham, England, into a wealthy Quaker family, he was a child prodigy(奇才), able to read from the age of two.

   He studied medicine in London and Birmingham, then mathematics at Cambridge, but his study was cut short by a mental breakdown, worsened by his father’s death in 1844.Galton turned to travelling and inventing.

   His marriage in 1853 to Louisa Jane Butler lasted 43 years, but was childless.He devoted his life to measuring physical and psychological characteristics, devising mental tests, and writing.
He received many awards and honours in recognition of his numerous achievements, including several honorary degrees and a knighthood.

Key works

  • 1869 Hereditary Genius
  • 1874 English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture
  • 1875 The History of Twins