The False Dichotomy of Nature Versus Nurture

Dec 14, 2011, 3:05 AM, Posted by

We all attribute certain traits to nurture and others to nature. “I’m stubborn. I get that from my dad’s side. My ambition and leadership skills? I learned those.” But Pioneer grantee Nicholas A. Christakis says more of the traits we typically attribute to culture have evolutionary roots, including who we choose as friends and whether or not we practice healthy behaviors.

In this week’s TIME magazine, Christakis argues that a new synthesis of biological and social science – biosocial science –can unearth solutions to some of the world’s most vexing public health problems. He writes that we can use our understanding of biology and behavior to address problems like how to get medications or tools to remote villages, control the behavior of dangerous crowds, or predict an epidemic before it happens. Christakis, a Pioneer grantee and a professor of sociology and medicine at Harvard, contributed this essay as one in a series by TIME’s most influential people in the world.

You can also learn about Christakis’ innovative research into how humans interact and coordinate in response to the behavior of one’s social partners in a recent Pioneer-funded article published in Science and in this profile.

Read the TIME essay, review Christakis’ work on patterns of human coordination and defection, tweet your thoughts about the nature versus nurture argument, or comment below. We’d love to hear what you think.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.