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Nature vs. Nurture

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Jeff: Ah, so you and your mom are both wacked?
Hayley: I dunno. That's that whole nature versus nurture question, isn't it? Was I born a cute, vindictive, little bitch or... did society make me that way? I go back and forth on that...

Everyone knows about some of the fundamental questions to life - who are you, what do you want, where did you come from, and where will you go? Those are the "what" questions, but this is the "why". Why did you say that? Why did you do this? Why were you there?


Innate qualities and personal experiences both play an important part in determining or causing individual differences in physical and behavioral traits, but this raises the question - which was more 'responsible' for such traits? Were these Abusive Parents abused themselves, and take that out on their own kids, or were they always malicious to begin with? Is the concept of free will (i.e. truly independent thought and truly independent decision-making) valid, or are your decisions brain-made "echoes"? Are your personalities determined more by genes, are they influenced by your own experiences, or are they made so that your personality truly is unique? Currently, scientists tend to think they both have about equal influences.

At any rate, fiction can have a field day with this, and depending on the writer, it can skew to either side of the argument.


Tropes that tend to skew towards "Nature":

Tropes that tend to skew towards "Nurture":



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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Elfen Lied, a point is made about whether or not the diclonii really are malicious, or if their cruelty is a byproduct of how they were raised. Lucy appears to be the latter; Mariko appears to be the former. Note that neither side is plausible in the manga. The manga implies that all diclonii are some degree of aggressive toward humans no matter how they're raised.
  • Naruto has Sasuke, Gaara and Naruto; their personalities and mindsets were influenced by their upbringing, but whereas the former two dealt with it badly, the latter was able to pull through because he was luckier than the others, though he convinced Gaara to change his view on life, and he's trying to do the same to Sasuke.
    • There's a lot of In the Blood going around, in that Sasuke's family has a long habit of choosing 'power' over 'strength' that supposedly goes back to the ancient founder of their clan, the elder son of the Sage of the Six Paths. Doujutsu and sociopathy apparently have a causal link, though not an inescapable one.
    • On the other hand, Gaara apparently had a very loving mother and a cold bastard of a father, and to complicate matters was raised by an uncle who was very kind and looked just like his mother. And was also ANBU and accepted the mission of making a hit on the six-year-old boy he'd raised, in order to test his emotional resilience. The zombie of Gaara's father acknowledges this as a flawed methodology.
    • And despite never knowing them, Naruto is just like both his parents.
  • The Akumetsu are several dozen clones made from an extremely evil guy as part of a project to assure his immortality, all separated as infants and raised in may households across Japan, all under the first name Shou and all but one unaware of the others. They are nothing like their original DNA donor, apart from a possibly-related mad indifference to normality. They are, however, so much like one another they very nearly have a Hive Mind within a weeks or even days of banding together.
    • I.e., both sides of this trope are being used and abused with reckless abandon.
    • Note that they did start swapping important memories around pretty early, though not many. To a certain extent they all imprinted on the Shou who inspired the whole Akumetsu project, but even before that they were so alike it's creepy, and honestly Shou is less like the others than any of them.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist is vague on whether homunculi are naturally malicious or if they're simply not raised well.
  • This is one of the fundamental themes of One Piece, primarily in the case of the protagonist Luffy and his brother Ace. The question of whether or not the blood in your veins determines who you are — somewhat played with in that Luffy and Ace did end up as criminals like their parents, but in their case it was their only hope of survival, seeing as the World Government is firmly on the "nature" side, deeming them to be evil just because of their parents' crimes and would've killed them immediately had they been aware of their existences earlier. Also played with in that despite taking after his father, Ace more or less disavowed him and considered Whitebeard his real father. Luffy himself was not influenced by his parents seeing as he never knew he had them. The issue is even further muddled by the fact that the World Government is blatantly evil, making Luffy and Ace downright heroic in comparison.
    • This is arguable in the case of Donquixote Doflamingo once we see more of his past. Was he born evil like Rosinante suggested and incapable of veering off of his dark path? Or was it a combination of the mistakes of their father, Homing, whose actions caused the death of their mother, mixed with the influence of the executives, who provided him with his Devil Fruit and his signature flintlock? The latter created a conflicting message between Homing wanting Doflamingo to be humble and the executives who would burn down a city if Doflamingo tripped on its sidewalk, suggesting that while Doflamingo always had some darkness in him, it was the executives (particularly an 18-year old Trebol) who egged him on and pushed him over the edge.
    • A prominent theme in the Whole Cake Island arc. Both Sanji and Big Mom were shown to have some very troubling pasts, yet the people they are today was the result of different circumstances. Sanji was bullied horrifically as a kid by his father and brothers and locked away to rot. But thanks to the actions of his mother, his sister Reiju, and later Zeff, he became a kind hearted person who became strong enough to be one of the toughest pirates around and defend those he cares about. In contrast, Big Mom was abandoned by her parents due to her abnormal strength; the woman who took her in was nothing more than a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing using her for her own ends; and the man who raised her after that just saw her as a meal ticket, with both parental figures encouraging her destructive behavior and turning Big Mom into a literal monster. What's more, these are traits Big Mom showcases to her own family, some of whom would sooner stab each other in the back then help one another unless Big Mom commands it. Pudding is more or less the middle ground with this: like Sanji, she was bullied as a kid and Big Mom didn't do anything to deter it, so she became evil as a result. However, when actually shown true kindness, this causes a breakdown because no one showed real compassion to her before, leaving her in a state of confusion at a critical moment, and she later makes a Heel–Face Turn.
  • It is all but stated in Dragon Ball that Saiyans are naturally ruthless Blood Knights who care about little except for fighting. When Goku hit his head and forgot his Saiyan memories, he was raised to be the good person we know by the kind senior Gohan. However, with supplemental material we have seen that there were good Saiyans and Goku's mother was one of them, it brings into question if Goku's goodness is genetic as well as nurture.

  • Brought up in most depictions of Superman: Superman is Kryptonian, but was raised by kindly old adoptive parents. In older stories, it was usually implied that his superior Kryptonian heritage and abilities were the cause of his strict moral compass, but in latter stories (especially after other, villainous Kryptonians, were introduced), it's outright stated that Superman's upbringing is responsible for creating who he is.
    • During his Darker and Edgier interpretation, Superboy was all about this trope. Superboy is a clone created by human DNA that was altered and/or combined with Superman's DNA (Depending on the Writer). In the earliest years, his "daddy" was Paul Westfield and later, it was retconned to be Lex Luthor instead. Neither of them are very nice people. So, Superboy constantly questioned whether he was destined to become good or evil based on the genes provided by Superman or his human father.
    • In his New 52 incarnation, Superboy starts flat out amoral. The group that cloned him outright questions whether his lack of human empathy is due to being a clone, being half alien, or lacking Superman's overall upbringing. He slowly starts to learn empathy and compassion.
    • The entire plot of Justice League 3000 (which sees the JLA "resurrected" in the 31st century) hinges on this. Superman lacks the guiding hand of the Kents and is thus a Jerk Jock with a massive ego, Batman never suffered the loss of his parents and doesn't even wanna be Batman, Wonder Woman is a violent Blood Knight constantly looking for someone to kill, and so on.
  • Some X-Men fans have considered this debate when comparing the characters of Cable and Nate Grey, as each are essentially the same character in terms of their genetic heritage- being the 'child' of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, even if Nate was created in a lab using DNA samples stolen from his 'parents' while Cable was the naturally-conceived child of Scott Summers with Jean's clone- but experienced vastly different upbringings, with Cable a soldier dedicated to his chosen mission while Nate was intended as a weapon and resent others' attempts to use him. There are notable differences (Cable tends to be a bit more grounded), but they're surprisingly similar. The general rule of thumb is that Nate's a bit more heart on his sleeve than Cable is, and if he's playing Mutant Messiah, it's not always part of a scheme.
  • This is a theme of New Gods, most notably involved in the child-swap that kicks off most of the events of the series. Mister Miracle represents good nature (he's the son of the kind, wise, heroic Izaya the Highfather) and bad nurture (he was raised in a re-education facility on a Death World and fed endless propaganda about tyranny and repression), while Orion represents bad nature (he's the son of the murderous, fascistic God of Evil Darkseid) and good nurture (he was raised as a prince and a warrior on an idyllic world, immersed in philosophies of freedom and love). Surprisingly, the apparent answer ends up being "both"; Mister Miracle refuses to have his spirit broken and escapes Apokolips to live on Earth with an officer he redeemed and rescued, while Orion, though prone to fits of rage and Good Is Not Nice moments, remains a valiant warrior who has no greater goal than to defeat his father.

    Fan Fic 
  • In Do Not Meddle In The Affairs Of Wizards, Harry's lawyer argues that the reason Dumbledore forced Harry to stay with the Dursleys was because he wanted to prove that it was nature, and not nurture, that drove an individual, and thus prove to himself that Tom Riddle would have gone bad, no matter what he did.
  • The Power He Knows Not specifically states this as Dumbledore’s motive for sticking Harry with the Dursleys, trying to find out if it was his fault that the future Voldemort went bad or that Tom was bad to begin with. The experiment goes out the windows, however, when the spirit of Harry’s mother reveals herself to him on his fifth birthday, not that Dumbledore is aware of this, of course...
  • One of the major plot points in the Aftermath of the Games universe is that Twilight ends up in charge of raising a filly version of Starlight Glimmer because unlike her canon counterpart, Starlight refused to surrender and atone for her actions during "The Cutie Re-Mark", so Twilight was left with no choice but to wipe her out of existence by convincing the nine-year-old Starlight to run away from her Orphanage of Fear and become her apprentice. Twilight and everybody in the know about the filly's origins agrees that part of the reason why the original Starlight became a major psychopath was because spending her entire foal hood in an abusive orphanage prevented her from learning how to connect properly with other ponies, so they take extra care to raise her in a loving environment and build her a large support network of ponies that she's able to trust so she gets on the right path. However, because mental illnesses are a mix of both genetics and upbringing, Starlight demonstrates early warning signs of her older self's fanatical behavior during Integration, and Twilight fears the possibility that nothing she can do will make a difference.
  • A subject in Godzilla Junior's character arc in The Bridge. Junior is the third "Godzilla" behaves very different from his predecessors, being a heroic soul who's saved millions of human lives by acting as their protector from malign kaiju. However there is a fear the things that are similar between him and his father and grandfather, such as a sense of revenge and a temper, which could cause him to Turn Out Like His Father. Junior himself is aware of this and is scared by the prospect he might be destined to go down that path. Ultimately though, nurture wins because of Junior's close tie to his mother, Dr. Azusa Gojo; who points out that some similarities doesn't put him on a predetermined path and he has plenty of differences that make him who he is. It's clear when Junior learns to forgive a former enemy rather than seek revenge, he takes more after Azusa than Godzilla Senior.
  • Child of the Storm Zig-Zags the trope, with the answer coming out somewhere in between. Some personality traits seeming to be In the Blood (Harry being Hot-Blooded, for instance, and Hermione's 'tone of detached ruthlessness' that Harry notes sounds exactly like her grandfather, Magneto). However, upbringing is strongly emphasised in the classical case of Clark Kent, and in the two examples where characters are Split at Birth ( Jean and Maddie, and Scott and Remy - though Remy's a clone) it's made clear that there are definite and fundamental personality differences that come from their respective upbringings.
  • Code Geass: Paladins of Voltron: Lelouch is a unique case where both elements have roughly equal influence on his character. Lelouch is Krolia's grandson, yet had a ridiculously abusive childhood, which would imply his heroism is in his Nature. However, there's also the fact that he's a member of the Britannian Royal Family yet actively works against them due to witnessing how their actions harm others, indicating his heroism is a product of Nurture. These two assumptions open up the possibility that Lelouch's character is a product of both Nature AND Nurture - he had innate inclinations toward being a hero that was solidified by his upbringing.
  • In The New Retcons all three of Elly Patterson's daughters wonder if they will eventually go mad like she had, or if their different upbringings and choices in life will help avoid that, as part of the reason she snapped was from her Dark and Troubled Past like giving Claire up for adoption after having a Teen Pregnancy, or lying about Michael's biological father, or that the hell she suffered being a mom may be a Self-Inflicted Hell instead. What's worse, a letter from Aunt Phyllis hints the madness is genetic, as there were other women with mental issues in Elly's mother's side of the family.
  • In Shadow the Hedgehog: First - Class, Gerald Robotnik explains that it's in the nature of members of the Robotnik family to be intelligent and wise. Brutus and Eggman, Gerald's illegitimate son and grandson respectively, turned out the way they did (the former is implied to be an alcoholic who died driving drunk while the latter is an Evil Genius) due to nurture, specifically bad childhoods.
  • Phantom and the Knight reveals that Danny himself is the result of just one of many Baby Switches committed by a Mad Doctor in a misguided attempt at testing Nature vs. Nurture.

  • The entire plot of Trading Places begins when the Duke brothers place a bet on whether success in life is In the Blood or a product of a good environment. The movie makes a case for circumstances being more important than genes. Despite his upper-class background, hitting Rock Bottom turns Winthorpe into a gun-toting maniac and Wrong Side of the Tracks Valentine becomes a charming commodities broker who provides his own street smarts.
  • Long before Trading Places, two businessmen tested this on The Three Stooges in "Hoi Polloi".
  • In Man of Steel, Zod is a destructive Knight Templar but he was bred and raised to be a soldier through bloodline and genetic manipulation and the workings of Kryptonian society. Clark is descended from Kryptonian scientists, but he had a natural conception and birth and was raised by Kansas farmers. Though the film hints at Clark being geeky as a child, he chooses a different career in life which would have been impossible on Krypton.
  • This exchange from Hard Candy:
    Jeff Kohlver: Ah, so you and your mom are both wacked?
    Hayley Stark: I dunno. There's that whole nature versus nurture question, isn't it? Was I born a cute, vindictive, little bitch or... did society make me that way? I go back and forth on that...
  • Twins: Discussed. The scientists responsible for Julius and Vincent's creation were firmly on the side of Nature, to the point that they were willing to go through with some extremely unethical experiments to prove their point. Julius, on the other hand, calls the whole idea bullshit, pointing out that Vincent (the "reject batch") was left to his own devices but still managed to survive and thrive in an environment that would have killed any of them, and could probably, given the opportunity to learn something other than con artistry, theft and cheating, have been the greatest of them all.

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin is based around the nature/nurture debate — did Kevin grow into a murderer because mummy didn't love him enough, or was he a psychopath from the word "go"? Basically, it weighs up blaming the mother when her child grows into someone diabolical, against the disturbing idea of being born evil.
  • Worldwar features aliens raising humans, and humans raising aliens, in order to see how close they can make each species to their own.
  • Roose Bolton in talking with Theon during A Dance with Dragons openly wonders this about the relationship between his bastard son Ramsay and the first Reek, as Roose doesn't know if Ramsay's depravities were present before he sent Reek to serve him.
    Roose: Did Reek make Ramsay, or did Ramsay make Reek?
  • A recurring theme in Jack London's White Fang is whether the clay one is shaped from or the way in which they are shaped is a more significant part of what makes a man or dog.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society books practically compel the reader to consider the question, with the case of Nicholas Benedict and Ledroptha Curtain, who are identical twins, but turned out very differently. How much of Mr. Curtain's wicked behavior is simply his nature, and how much can be put down to the circumstances of his life? And The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict shows how very different things might have turned out for Benedict had he not found the help of some kind-hearted adults in his youth.
  • A more mundane of this and the In the Blood trope happens in a poem titled, In the Blood, where the subject wonders if she was born cruel and aggressive or if she learned to be those things.
  • One of the themes in Survivor Dogs is whether Fierce Dogs are naturally violent or whether this is learned behavior. There are arguments on both sides. It's mentioned that the Fierce Dogs were beaten into being so cruel, but at the same time Token Heroic Orc Storm is still a Blood Knight despite being Happily Adopted at a few weeks old (mentally the equivalent of a 4-7 year old).
  • Frankenstein: Frankenstein believes the monster is naturally evil, but the monster believes that he became evil due to Frankenstein's immediate abandonment of him (and he's shown to be right).

    Live Action Television 
  • Frequently debated in Law & Order, to the point where Dr. Olivet said in one episode that she didn't want to rehash the "nature versus nurture wars", saying that both sides were equally right and wrong.
  • On CSI, when Catherine Willows argued that people were shaped by their experiences as much as by their genetics, Gil Grissom agreed, saying, "Your DNA is what you are, not who you are."
  • The entire point of the experiment with the clones in Orphan Black seems to be to explore this. The clones were placed into different environments and were observed by "monitors" who reported their every move.
  • Discussed in Smallville episode "Scion". Clark is worried that Conner (who is a hybrid clone of him and Lex), will embrace the dark side, and he seems to do under the influence of red kryptonite courtesy of Lionel. Once he's free from it, he chooses to side with Clark. At the end of the episode, Clark tells Conner that everyone has a shadow inside, but it doesn't mean you have to embrace it. Lois then comments "Seems to me that Clark Kent's nature and nurture won out in the end."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Basically the main conflict (besides the iconic "nature versus technology") between the colours Green and Blue in Magic: The Gathering. Green, naturally, favors Nature, believing in genetic fatalism and predestination. Blue's entire philosophy relies on the concept of tabula rasa, and therefore it sides with nurture.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect: Exactly how much asari with a non-asari parent get from genetics, and how much from upbringing, gets a lot of flip-flopping. The asari claim that mating with non-asari just scrambles the daughter's genes a bit, but the daughter frequently develops traits of the non-asari parent. Matriarch Aethyta had a krogan father and is kind of a Grumpy Old Lady, but she was raised by both parents. Another minor asari in the second game had a batarian father and acts rather amoral and mercenary. Then there's Mordin's off-hand remark in his patter song that asari-vorcha offspring have dairy allergies.
  • Metal Gear: A recurring theme in the series, Specifically in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Raiden is contrasted with Solid Snake and his clone brothers. Whereas the Snakes are genetically altered clones of Big Boss, Raiden is a child soldier who was raised by Solidus (one of the Snakes) and then subjected into the S3 Plan, a simulation program meant to train a soldier in Solid Snake's image.
  • The idea is present in Final Fantasy IX. Zidane decides to try to rescue Kuja at the end of the game, stating that had things turned out differently, he could have ended up like him. Both of them were created and manipulated by Garland, but Zidane was abandoned on Gaia unaware of his true heritage, while Kuja learned the truth of things and went on a mad rampage. Players of the game are left to wonder if Zidane, who lives by the motto "you don't need a reason to help people," could have ever been like Kuja, given his apparent nature.
    Eiko: Come on, Zidane! Why are you doing this!?
    Zidane: Because... Because I might've done the same thing if I were in his shoes. I probably would've fought against you guys and wreaked havoc in Gaia like he did... I know it sounds crazy... ...but I know, deep down inside, I have to do this.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY plays with this with the characters of Qrow and Raven Brawnwen, with them representing Nature and Nurture respectively. Both were raised by a tribe of bandits, and later joined regular society to study at Beacon Academy. They had been pretty obviously separated from society at large, as evidenced by the fact that Taiyang was able to trick Qrow into wearing a skirt by telling him it was a kilt.
    • Qrow, representing Nature, eventually turned his back on the bandit tribe, and is presented as having a deeply-ingrained sense of morality, and has become a loving, if somewhat gruff and extremely blunt, uncle to Ruby and Yang. Treating them with affection, and rescuing them whenever they got out of their depth, such as when Yang put Ruby in a wagon and went looking for her mother, Raven, and nearly got herself and Ruby killed as a result, before Qrow pulled a Big Damn Heroes saved them.
    • Raven, representing Nurture, fully embraced the tribe's Social Darwinist ways. She rejoined them as soon as she could and is implied to even be their leader. She has had basically no contact with her Daughter, Yang, and has explicitly told Qrow that she will not save Yang's life again after saving her once.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Fairly OddParents: School's Out! The Musical: This is Flappy Bob's conflict. He was born as a clown who wants everyone to laugh and have fun, but his life was dictated by the Pixies, who raised him to be a boring businessman whose goal in life is to create a "Learnatorium" that unironically imprisons children. Timmy fails to appeal to him the first time, but Flappy Bob soon learns that the Pixies were just using him, and embraces his roots as a fun-loving clown AND as a shrewd businessman to defeat them.
  • This was the title of the season one finale of The Spectacular Spider-Man. It concerns the different upbringings between Peter Parker and Eddie Brock.
    Brock: Our parents may have died together, but you had your precious aunt and uncle. We had no one, we've always been alone... until now.
  • Crops up in the episode "Dragon Quest" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, where Spike tries to learn more about being a dragon, but he learns that by nature, dragons are destructive and greedy. He then learns to embrace being raised by ponies as he has not become like them.
  • Rick and Morty: Beth and Rick get into an argument about whether or not Beth's sociopathic behavior as a child was caused by Rick's terrible parenting. Beth believes that she was acting out to get attention and while Rick admits he is a terrible parent he insists that Beth was born evil, and it is left ambiguous who is right.

    Universal Media 

Alternative Title(s): Nature Vs Nurture, Nurture Versus Nature


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