Perceptual Psychology Nativism vs Empiricism

One of the biggest controversies in psychology is the debate between the theories of nativism and empiricism. Basically, both these theories seek to explain the true origin of human knowledge. Nativists claim that knowledge innate in humans is just waiting to be nurtured.

On the other hand, empiricists such as John Locke and David Hume among others, argued that knowledge is acquired during a person’s life. According to empiricists’ arguments, newborn babies are born in a blank state better known as “Tabula Raza.”

Hence, this article attempts to examine the weight and arguments of both theories of perceptual psychology.


Nativism is the view of human knowledge wherein it is believed that certain skills and abilities are innate in a person. These skills and abilities are already natural in humans. Thus, nativists claim that proper nurturing is needed in order to make use of such “native” skills and abilities.

According to nativists, people are born with perceptual functions of varying degree, ready to be utilized. Nativism is supported by the top down idea.


Empiricism is the theory of perceptual psychology which asserts that knowledge is acquired through a person’s sensory experiences. Empiricism points out that nature plays a crucial role in molding and shaping a person’s skills and abilities.

Empiricists believe that experiences and evidence are the main factors that influence a person’s knowledge. Empiricism ideas are founded on scientific and logical philosophies. Thus, the theory of empiricism carries greater weight compared to nativism.

Similarly, nativism has been criticized and was even pointed out as too “vague and falsifiable.”  Moreover, science according to empiricists is methodically empirical in nature, making its claims more solid. 

Nevertheless, experts are still divided with regard to the debate between nativism and empiricism. Nativism is very specific in pointing out its claims, although empiricism’s ideas are better constructed.

In order to resolve the long-standing debate, experts have done various research studies and experiments focusing mainly on the origin of knowledge. Animal studies are conducted by several research institutions to identify the origin of a newborn’s knowledge. Newborn animals are isolated and are studied from time to time.

These studies also reveal that sensory abilities are learned. However, it does not automatically mean that empiricism wins the debate. It could be said that such innate skills were not honed and developed, leading to the spoilage of such skills. Hence, further research studies are needed in order to identify the true origin of knowledge.