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Nurture over Nature

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In the debate of Nature Versus Nurture, this trope slides towards nurture.

When a character is raised by someone other than their natural parents, the character will often show traits, etc. from their natural parents, but also traits and traditions (or whatever they pick up) from their new ones.

Over time, a debate will come up for the character to choose: to be like one (set of) parent(s) or the other? Stay with one or join the other?

Depending on the context, this decision could shed some light on things for the story, characters, etc. For example, if the hero has raised the villain's natural child, the adoption can be shown in a positive light, and the child choosing to stay with their adoptive family is good.

If the Villain raises the child of the hero, then the adoption is seen negatively and the natural parent taking their child away can be seen as a "rescue" from a bad adoption. That being said, the Villain may actually love the child. Alternatively, the adopted family may be a pack of wolves, in which case the child will need to choose between the way of the wild, and the way of humans.

Often applies to characters who are Happily Adopted. Inversion of, but not mutually exclusive with, Villainous Lineage, which is what a lot of characters think having an evil parent does to someone. See also Upbringing Makes the Hero for cases where a down-to-earth home life give potentially evil-inclined characters and normal ones the moral grounding to excel.

See also: Blank Slate, Conditioned to Accept Horror, More than Mind Control, Rousseau Was Right, and Then Let Me Be Evil

Not to be confused with My Real Daddy, which is about creators of works, not characters.

Specific Cases:

In relation to Clones, Magically-generated characters, etc., an issue may popup that is related to how much freewill have they been given:


  • if the clone(s) were implanted with the memories from their source, the choice can become source-nature vs. source-nurture, and source-nurture would be chosen.
  • if the clone(s) don't have implanted memories, and are raised separately than the source, then the choice can become source-nature vs. new-nurture, and new-nurture would be chosen.

See also: Clones Are People, Too

Living in the wild:

  • Does the person choose to follow the nurturing-of-nature, or his inherited nature. The choice, in this case, will be the nature they have come to love, instead of their human nature.

See also: Raised by Wolves

Magical Generation (or some other Phlebotinum):

  • Do they follow the intent of whoever or whatever created them or, alternatively, the nature of the person that they're based on or what they have learned since being created/split off?

See Also: Phlebotinum Rebel

Artificial Intelligence, Cyborgs, Robots and the like:

  • Do they follow their original programming (the nature, in this case) or what they have learned since being brought online (nurture)?
  • Does a cyborg follow the human nature, robot programming, or something else entirely?

See Also: Artificial Intelligence


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     Anime and Manga  
  • The third and fourth Dragon Ball Z movies invoke this by Son Gokū denying his Saiyan heritage and calling himself an Earthling. It is particularly a major theme in the third movie, where Gokū's son Gohan is forced to transform into an Oozaru by Gokū's Evil Doppelgänger Tullece who tries to call upon Gohan's Saiyan nature, but ultimately Gohan's Earthling side causes his rampage to stop (although in Gohan's case, he's half-Saiyan, half-Earthling). In the fourth movie, Gokū's spontaneously transformation into a False Super Saiyan actually saves his life. In canon, however, Gokū denies his Saiyan heritage only at the beginning of the Saiyan Saga when his evil older brother Raditz confronts him with the truth, but after both of them die, Gokū has no problem declaring himself as a Saiyan.
  • Invoked by Fate in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. Her mother, Precia, was practically the poster child for abusive anime parents and her adoptive mother, Lindy, is the exact opposite. Fate does everything in her power to be a good mother for her adoptive children (she even mentions in supplementary material that she deliberately based her behavior off of Lindy), because the idea of ending up like Precia terrifies her, something that Scaglietti tries to invoke to break Fate.
  • In One Piece, Word of God confirmed that one of the themes of the story is "heredity doesn't matter and family is who you choose." The World Government, being evil, is firmly on the "nature" side of the debate, along with most of the world in general — yet to the audience, this reasoning is consistently proven to be wrong, most tragically in the cases of the protagonist Luffy and his adoptive older brother Ace.

     Comic Books  

  • In one comic, the Eradicator's projection of Kem-El keeps badgering Superman (or Kal-El, as he calls him) to leave Earth and the pathetic humans who live there. Superman's response?

    Superman: My name is Clark Kent. Get out of my home. Get off of my planet.
  • Zig-Zagged in New Gods. Orion, son of Darkseid but raised by Highfather, the ruler of New Genesis, follows his nurture and becomes a good guy. Scott Free, son of Highfather but raised by Darkseid, follows his nature and becomes a good guy. Subverted, since Scott wasn't so much raised by Darkseid as he was "locked up in a torture/training camp his entire life until he escaped". This was Darkseid's goal all along, since this gave him an excuse to break the treaty between New Genesis and Apokolips that was marked by the exchange of infant sons between Darkseid and Highfather.

  • In Marvel Comics, there is Evan Sabanur aka Genesis - teenage genetic clone of Apocalypse himself, who was deliberately raised in a positive Smallville-ish (although fake) world to become a kind and honest person. While he still remains an unquestionably nice guy, people around him are constantly expecting him to become as evil as his original - and make note, in ALL of glimpses of the future comic provided, he actually did. It seems like whole universe itself is devoted to turn him to the dark side, but this only means you just can't stop rooting for the poor kid. Even Deadpool, of all people, befriended him and actually referenced the trope while talking the boy out of temporary (involuntary) Heel–Face Turn - claiming that while Evan remains good, this means anyone can be good, no matter who they were before.
    "Dude—No one liked En Sabah Nur! But everyone loves Evan! Evan's that hope that we can all be better. That no matter where we come from, no matter how bad it was or what people expect us to be—nurture can beat nature."
  • Subverted in one Superman comic: when Superman confidently tells Supergirl that he's confident they'd be the same even if he hadn't landed in Kanas... Mr. Mxyzptlk decides to mess with time and space by making it so Superman crashed in war time Kasnia and Supergirl in Hollywood. The result is a G-rated Red Son Superman, and a shallow minded Supergirl with it up to Booster Gold to set things right.


  • Disney's adaptation of Tarzan sees the main character almost depart with his newfound human companions for England, but a turn of events changes his mind and he eventually decides to stay in the jungle with the gorillas who raised him.

    Fan Works 

  • Code Geass: Paladins of Voltron: An interesting example with Lelouch - while he inherited strengths and flaws from Charles and Marianne (piloting skill, strategic thinking, and manipulation), it's implied that his upbringing brought out the absolute best parts of his Galra heritage, with none of the flaws.
  • Seventh Endmost Vision: Sephiroth displays this in spades. Here, due to Ifalna taking him with her when she broke out of Shinra containment, he was raised by Elmyra in Sector 5. While he retains some traits from canon- his snake motif, his pre-freakout calmness, high intelligence, and his considerable talent in battle- being raised by Elmyra has done him a world of good; he's a kind Farm Boy and Combat Medic who has become The Champion of Sector 5. Notably, he also has adopted some of Elmyra's countryish sayings and turns of phrase, and is specifically stated to have a strong slum accent.


  • Son Goku in Dragon Ball was originally sent to Earth to destroy it. He was a savage little baby up until the moment he took a blow to the head. He become sweeter after that, and the lessons taught by his adoptive grandfather and throughout his life made him into Earth's greatest defender instead.

     Film - Animated  

  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs has Sid take a trio of T. rex eggs, which promptly hatch and think he's their mother. However, their REAL mother soon comes looking for them, and of course is infuriated to find Sid stole them. The hatchlings convince her to let Sid live, but the two of them begin competing for their affection of their children. Ultimately, the T. rex mother wins, as she's the only one who can provide her children with real meat to eat, while Sid is unable to get the hatchlings to prefer vegetables.

     Film - Live Action  

  • The movie Us has this as a core theme. The Twist Ending, that Red is actually the real Adelaide and that the Adelaide we've been following is the copy, causes the entire idea that Tethered don't have "souls" to be put into question. Red was a perfectly normal girl before being trapped underground among lifeless clones, similarly, Adelaide was a Creepy Child and an Enfant Terrible before becoming a "normal" girl aboveground. Their children, too, are all half-human and half-tethered, meaning that the differences between them - and the fact that Umbrae and Pluto are completely animalistic "monsters" while Jason and Zora are well-adjusted and otherwise normal kids - are entirely the result of their different situations.
  • To some extent, Hellboy does this. When Hellboy is being pressured to accept his demonic nature and open the gate, Myers yells out "Remember who you are" and throws Bruttenholm's crucifix to HB ... who remembers how Bruttenholm raised him and fights for Team Humanity.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: In spite of everything, it's still his adoptive family and his adoptive society that Loki exclusively identifies with. He looks (albeit with a glamour), talks, and dresses like an Asgardian, covets the Asgardian throne, and uses magic which he had learned from his Asgardian mother as his primary power. He has no interest in his Jötunn heritage, and no desire to rule Jötunheim; in fact, he tries to impress his Asgardian father by destroying it. Loki consistently presents himself as an Asgardian and is regarded as such by everyone he meets.


  • In Fire and Hemlock, Polly feels more at home in her grandma's house than at the house of her parents, even before they got divorced. Afterwards, both of them neglect her to be with their new mates, and she becomes more and more estranged from her parents. Eventually, her grandmother adopts her, and they are both happy with the arrangement. Her grandmother states that she is ashamed of her son (Polly's father), as he left Polly alone in a strange city, where she was supposed to catch a train, but didn't have a ticket, and her mother thought she was moving in with her father, anyway, so there is nowhere to return to. Polly was picked up by her adult friend Tom, and his three friends who never met her before, and they threw their money together to buy a train ticket for Polly. Her grandmother remarks that Tom did a better job than her own son.
  • In Horton Hatches the Egg Horton (an elephant) sits on Mayzie's (a bird) egg while she is away. At the end of the story the egg hatches and has somehow turned into a birdephant.
  • In The Wheel of Time Rand very quickly decides that the couple who raised him are his real parents, though he's happy to learn more about his birth parents. The fact that the latter are dead simplifies things.
  • In Dune Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen was raised by his Magnificent Bastard uncle Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, and it shows, the prequels of questionable canonicity show that his father was the White Sheep of the family. Meanwhile, the Baron's natural daughter Lady Jessica, whom he didn't even know he sired, is one of the kindest and most humane characters (which is ironically even more bizarre when you consider that she's a known member of a shadowy society whose cornerstones are emotional control and political manipulation).
  • In World Without End, Gwenda remarks that her son Sam shares many mannerisms with her husband, Wulfric, even though she knows he is really the product of her affair with Ralph.
  • In the novel Too Many Curses, the self-aware castle's loyalties are divided between the evil wizard who built but neglects it, and the kobold servant who's been diligently and compassionately tending to the place and its occupants for years.
  • The title character of the Ukiah Oregon series has this one in spades. He was found amnesiac and running with a wolf pack and adopted by a white lesbian couple from Pittsburgh. He then discovers that much of his personality was shaped not by that upbringing but by his upbring by his biological mother, a Umatilla woman named Kicking Deer, and that all three of his upbringings have been working against the nature bequeathed him by his alien father.
  • At the end of Silas Marner, Eppie's natural father reveals himself and offers to acknowledge her and make her his heir. Despite his promise of a loving family and great wealth, Eppie prefers to stay with the title character, who has raised her for the last sixteen years, and is the only parent she knows.
  • In A Brother's Price, little Neddie is adopted by the Whistlers at about five years old, and, despite remembering her birth parents, she apparently never asks about them, but makes an effort to fit into the new family and is seen happily running around with her new adopted siblings. She is said to be a lot happier with their adoptive family than she ever was with her birth family. It is implied that her birth family neglected her.
  • In Arrivals from the Dark, Paul Richard Corcoran eventually finds out that his biological father is a Faata, who attempt to invade Earth in the first book. However, at no point does he feel conflicted about his nature. As far as he's concerned, he's human, and the Faata pretty much raped his mother by artificially inseminating her, while holding her captive, so no, he holds nothing but contempt for the aliens. Surprisingly, no one in the fleet is the least bit suspicious of a "half-breed" like Corcoran, even though one would think there'd be someone. Then again, the fleet brass has secretly kept an eye on him his whole life, so they know he's no alien sympathizer. In the second book, he uses his Faata-inherited abilities to infiltrate a Faata colony, confront his biological father, and force the colony's surrender. He spends the rest of his life fighting the Faata as a fleet commander and is killed during one of the wars with them. None of his descendants (those who know the truth, at least) also feel any shred of sympathy for the Faata).
  • Translation State: Juvenile Presger Translators are extraordinarily dangerous — both able and eager to take other people apart, plus they need to assimilate another lifeform during their maturation. Even Qven, a pleasant Translator, killed 34 of her peers in childhood. Meanwhile, Reet was Happily Adopted and Raised by Humans, and despite having violent fantasies, has never harmed anyone and doesn't intend to start. The Translators flat-out don't believe this at first.

     Live Action TV  

  • Smallville had a growing conflict between Jor-El and Jonathan Kent.
    • They cooperated at the end of the Season 2 to get Red Kryptonite Clark home.
    • Jor-El was much more antagonistic at this point, even brainwashing Clark at the end of season 3. The constant fighting for Clark helped cost Jonathan his life.
    • During seasons 5-8, Clark took up his father's position for himself, representing his father's Earthly teachings. While Jor-El became more of a strict, but loving, father, who wanted Clark to be the beacon of light for the planet as well as be more Kryptonian (which meant cutting him off from friends and family).
    • This is ultimately resolved in the series finale, in which Clark chooses to embrace both sides in a happy marriage.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures has this in regard to Luke:
    • Luke wasn't born so much as grown by The Bane. Bane Leader, Mrs. Wormwood, still considers him her son and is proud of his intelligence, considering him to be a successful experiment. Luke however, doesn't like being considered an experiment, and is Happily Adopted by Sarah Jane (who he considers to be his "real" mother for all intended purposes). Sure he likes some of the perks being grown gave him (being the smartest guy in the room, having perfect health, etc) but he likes that Sarah Jane lets him be more or less a normal kid (or as close as an alien hunting son of a former time traveler can be, anyways).
    • One rather dark episode had it that Luke was actually not grown after all, but that The Bane had kidnapped him from a human family and simply altered him. This causes a ton of angst for Luke who does not want to go back to his family and never see Sarah Jane again. Sarah Jane meanwhile has to give up her son, knowing that it's the right thing to do, and that while she thought she was doing the right thing and loved him, his place is with his "real" family. His "real" family is very uncomfortable with Luke having forgotten about them and how during his amnesiac state with Sarah Jane; he forgot he was a football star (even claiming to hate the sport), became very shy and quiet, and really doesn't seem to like them very much. Granted it only last for about an episode because it was all an elaborate revenge plot caused by Sarah Jane's supercomputer being evil and the Slitheen kid from an earlier episode but still damn.
  • The episode "Cardassians" from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might have an example. A Cardassian youth raised by Bajoran parents sees himself as Bajoran.
    • To expand on that, the episode ends with him being sent home to his biological father because politics. The DS9 novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice details what happens to him after that.
  • Paige Matthews argues for Nurture over Nature in an episode of Charmed (1998), when the sisters have to decide whether to vanquish a manticore baby. Paige was Happily Adopted and believes that the baby will turn out fine if he's given the right chance. Of course, Charmed usually adheres to the Demons = Always Chaotic Evil school of thought, but it turns out to be moot anyway when it's revealed that the baby's father is human and that mixed heritage is taken as proof that the baby will probably turn out alright. Or, if you're being generous, a combination of Nature (his human blood) and Nurture (his father being the one to raise him) cancelling out any manticore instincts/alignment In the Blood.
  • In Supernatural this is addressed with the nephilim, Jack, whose father is Lucifer. Jack's mother was a good person who died when he was born, but his father is objectively evil. Yet, Jack comes to regard his heroic father-figures Dean, Sam and Castiel as his real family and eventually rejects Lucifer.


  • In HONK!, Ugly meets a group of swans, but ultimately stays with Ida, saying she raised him and is therefore his real mother.

     Video Games  

  • Contrast reveals that Vincenzo is Didi's biological father, so she has to decide whether to follow him or stay with Johnny, who helped raise her.
  • Metal Gear:
    • This is the Aesop of the first Metal Gear Solid. The Big Bad launches a terrorist action solely because his genes "tell" him to help his soon-to-be-extinct clone brothers, and is fittingly killed by a smart virus that targets people based on their DNA. Solid Snake, after being warned that he may suffer a similar fate, is reminded that he's not a slave to his genes and can still choose what to do with his life next.
    • The Patriots in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty take the trope and its use in the previous game to a much more chilling conclusion: an Ancient Conspiracy that explicitly knows the power of Nurture over Nature and exploits it by reshaping people's personalities through social engineering.

     Web Comics  

  • In The Order of the Stick Elan and Nale are identical twins separated at birth and raised by different parents. Elan was raised by their mother, a Chaotic Good barmaid, while Nale went with their Lawful Evil warlord father. Guess which one is good and which is evil. Though somehow Elan inherited their dad's love of the dramatic and Nale got mom's Complexity Addiction. After their father kills Nale, Elan wonders if he might have turned out the evil one if their places had been switched, his girlfriend admits that she does not know.
  • Explored in Freefall with AI programming and safeguards (aka AI nature). These things are mental weighting factors which affect decision making, and are eventually outweighed or reinforced by new weighting factors added through life experience.

     Western Animation  

  • The ultimate fate of The Lich/Sweet P in Adventure Time. Reborn from the ultimate evil but raised by loving parents to become a hero.
  • In the 2012 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Oroku Saki adopts Hamato Yoshi's daughter. Him going after her, can be seen as him trying to get back what he lost. While he is shown to be a loving father to the turtles, she doesn't know about her true parentage (mutagent aside), so she is currently (unknowingly) choosing to stay with the Shredder.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Dragon Quest", Spike, a young dragon raised by ponies, never meets his parents, but after spending a day with his own species, he realizes that he prefers his extended "family," to the point of declaring himself an honorary pony.
  • A flashback from Mr. Burns in The Simpsons plays it for laughs. He's shown as a child, living with a humble but caring family, when a fancy car stops in front of their house. He's then asked "Happy, would you like to continue living with us, your loving natural parents, or would you rather live with this twisted, loveless billionaire?". Burns got into the car without thinking twice about it.

     Real Life  

  • BF Skinner, known for his contributions to psychology and linguistics as well as several controversial theories on human nature, proposes that all positive and negative human behaviors are the result of environmental and cultural conditioning. He argued that a person at birth is a Blank Slate, and even characteristics attributed by many as intrinsic to human nature, such as love, altruism, violence, and greed, are the result of positive and negative reinforcement of those behaviors.