Psychological Perspectives on Free will vs Determinism and Nature v Nurture

The idea that the mind begins as a “blank slate,” proposed by the philosopher John Locke is the belief that the human mind begins as a blank piece of paper, on which experience writes and transforms one’s personality (Pinker, 2002). While human experience does seem to play a big part in determining a person’s personality the theory seems to oversimplify a complex question. At the time that the “blank slate” idea was proposed and forwarded there was little research on the concept of neuroscience and genetics. As science has continued to develop in these areas it would seem hard to deny that genetics has some influence on personality development.

In recent years there have been many studies done on the development of the mind. These include studies done on identical and fraternal twins separated at birth, which show an apparent relation between genes and personality development. At the same time, science seems to have made a genetic connection between disorders such as alcoholism and bi-polar disorder. These developments along with the advancement in the area of genetics are enough to make the “blank slate” proposal questionable at best. Research has also shown that a person’s parents and traumatic events in the person’s life

have an effect on personality development, but to say that experience is the only influence on personality seems to be remiss. Even as popular media continues to search for a single variable that determines human nature, psychological science continues to advance into more data-driven complex theories (Bearer & Coll, 2004). If one wants to answer the question of the basic nature of a person he must take into account both that person’s genetic history and her life experiences. It is a complex question that will take more experimental advancement to ever answer with any amount of scientific certainty. However, to ignore the influence of genetics and/or evolutionary history would seem to oversimplify the complexities of human nature and be a backwards step in the area of psychological science.


Bearer, E. & Coll, C. (2004). Nature and nurture: the complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pinker, S. (2002). The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature. London, England: Penguin Books.