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Prog Brain Res. 2011;189:3-22. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53884-0.00015-4.

Brain development and the nature versus nurture debate.

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Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.


Over the past three decades, developmental neurobiologists have made tremendous progress in defining basic principles of brain development. This work has changed the way we think about how brains develop. Thirty years ago, the dominant model was strongly deterministic. The relationship between brain and behavioral development was viewed as unidirectional; that is, brain maturation enables behavioral development. The advent of modern neurobiological methods has provided overwhelming evidence that it is the interaction of genetic factors and the experience of the individual that guides and supports brain development. Brains do not develop normally in the absence of critical genetic signaling, and they do not develop normally in the absence of essential environmental input. The fundamental facts about brain development should be of critical importance to neuropsychologists trying to understand the relationship between brain and behavioral development. However, the underlying assumptions of most contemporary psychological models reflect largely outdated ideas about how the biological system develops and what it means for something to be innate. Thus, contemporary models of brain development challenge the foundational constructs of the nature versus nurture formulation in psychology. The key to understanding the origins and emergence of both the brain and behavior lies in understanding how inherited and environmental factors are engaged in the dynamic and interactive processes that define and guide development of the neurobehavioral system.

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