The debate between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ as the most important influence in an organism’s life is one of the classical debates of psychology.
Range of reaction, also known as reaction range, is one answer to this debate.
Nature vs. Nurture
There is an age-old argument in psychology and other sciences about which is more important to an organism’s development: nature or nurture.
In simple terms, nature means genetics: if an organism has genes more suited to doing a thing, that organism will excel at doing that thing. Nurture, on the other hand, is the organism’s environment, which includes nutrition and other factors surrounding the organism as it matures. In the contemporary sciences, the debate of nature versus nurture is partially solved through the use of conceptualizations like range of reaction;the topic of this lesson.
Range of Reaction
Range of reaction (or reaction range) is a concept in psychology, genetics, and related fields that the expressed characteristics (or phenotype) of an organism depend both on genetic characteristics (or genotype) and the environment. It’s the current understanding that characteristics like intelligence depend upon both genetics and the environment to fully shape them in an individual. The function of genes in this process—according to reaction range—is to set hard limits to the range of certain characteristics, determining how well an organism can excel in different circumstances. The function of the environment is to set the way characteristics express themselves in a particular individual.
While this is mainstream science, it also is hotly contested among some scientists who would rather focus on the normal ways phenotypes are expressed in populations and discard the notion that genes have limits.
Let’s consider the idea of intelligence. Using the concept of range of reaction, a scientist would say that intelligence is determined by genes but manifests according to what the environment demands.
In other words, if a child has the potential to be a genius, that potential must also be nurtured through education, nutrition, and a safe environment. Lacking any of these makes it difficult for the brain to develop properly, resulting in the child not exercising his or her intellectual potential.Athletic ability is another area that the concept of range reaction can be applied to. A child with average genes can have above average performance with constant practice, exercise, and excellent nutrition. Think of Olympic and professional athletes for a moment. Certainly, some professional athletes have talents and abilities that are a result of good genetic potential, but most would attribute their success as athletes to hard work.
Turn the earlier question around and take a person with excellent athletic ability and put them in an environment where they never work out. Despite the person having good genes, there is no reason for that potential to be expressed.Our final example is that of a person’s artistic ability. A child may be musically talented, perhaps even be able to play an instrument without any real practice. However, if that child can’t access an instrument regularly or has no reason to do so, that talent may not go anywhere. Mozart was considered a musical genius, but he also spent his life studying and performing music.
There is no way to know what would have become of him without an environment that allowed him to practice and appreciate music.
Implications in Child Development
Range of reaction has implications for parents and teachers, as well as anyone whose lives involve children. Since genetic factors are more or less fixed in an individual after birth, parents and other caretakers should give children as nurturing an environment as possible.
This has to be in terms of both physical care, like nutrition and safety, as well as less tangible care, like emotional safety and family support. This is not a call to ‘coddle’ children or be overly permissive. Children learn from their environment and should be allowed to deal with challenges in order to develop coping strategies when things don’t always go their way. On the other hand, a child whose life is strictly regimented may not develop the creativity to improvise. A child brought up in a place where mere survival is the greatest concern may have difficulty responding to challenges in a constructive manner.
Range of reaction is a complex answer to the ‘nature or nurture’ question. In terms of development, genetic and other biological factors tend to set limits on what traits an organism may possess. The environment determines exactly how these traits are expressed and how this biological potential is realized. For example, the way in which intelligence develops in children is determined both by biological and environmental factors. An average child brought up in an excellent environment can express above average intelligence, whereas a poor environment may limit the ability of an above average child.
Other examples included artistic and athletic ability.