Professor Marcus Pembrey on ‘Responsiveness’

2 May 2011

The consensus view of whether our behaviour is due to nature or nurture, genes or environment is well worn. I asked Professor Pembrey to speculate on what the debate would’ve been like if the history of biology had played out differently.

His answer was that instead of a nature/nurture debate, evidence would have built up showing that some people responded a lot, and others very little to changes in the environment. This is an analytical level above the idea of ‘nature or nurture’ – it takes as read that both genes and environment make us who we are, and moves the debate on to how much our genes respond to our environment.

New research has found that some people have DNA that causes them to respond a lot, whereas other people have DNA that means they respond very little to a good or bad environment. This would have implications for the struggles over class, race and sex that occurred (though for some are still occurring) in the twentieth century.

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