Is Nativism In Psychology Reconcilable With The Parity Thesis in Biology?

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Slobodan Perovic, Ljiljana Radenovic
conference paper description
The Modern Synthesis of Darwinism and genetics regards non-genetic factors as merely constraints on the genetic variations that result in the characteristics of organisms. Even though the environment (including social interactions and culture) is as necessary as genes in terms of selection and inheritance, it does not contain the information that controls the development of the traits. S. Oyama’s account of the Parity Thesis, however, states that one cannot conceivably distinguish in a meaningful way between nature-based (i.e., gene-based) and nurture-based (i.e., environment-based) characteristics in development because the information necessary for the resulting characteristics is contained at both levels. Oyama and others argue that the Parity Thesis has far-reaching implications for developmental psychology, in that both nativist and interactionist developmental accounts of motor, cognitive, affective, social, and linguistic capacities that presuppose a substantial nature/nurture dichotomy are inadequate. After considering these arguments, we conclude that either Oyama’s version of the Parity Thesis does not differ from the version advocated by liberal interactionists, or it renders precarious any analysis involving abilities present at birth (despite her claim to the contrary). More importantly, developmental psychologists need not discard the distinction between innate characteristics present at birth and those acquired by learning, even if they abandon genocentrism. Furthermore, we suggest a way nativists can disentangle the concept of maturation from a genocentric view of biological nature. More specifically, we suggest they can invoke the maturational segment of the developmental process (which involves genetic, epigenetic and environmental causes) that results in the biological “machinery” (e.g. language acquisition device) which is necessary for learning as a subsequent segment of the developmental process.

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