The Nurture View of Human Nature Spawned Social Programs

Spitz showed that early nurturing and stimulation are essential to child development, and he was not alone in this view. At the time, the field of psychology was dominated by the theory of "behaviorism," which proposed that all our actions, from the simplest smile to the most sophisticated chess move, are learned through reward and punishment, trial-and-error interactions with other people and objects in the world. Babies, according to this view. are born as "blank slates," without predispositions, and infinitely malleable through parental feedback and tutoring. John Watson, the founder of modem behaviorism, even went so far as to claim:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any kind of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes even beggar-man and thief. regardless of his talents, penchants, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.

No doubt Watson overstated his case, but such emphasis on early environment eventually led to the establishment of important social programs like the welfare safety net and Head Start. If children are so greatly malleable. then the best way to ensure a great society is by improving the environment of its youngest members.


Child welfare was probably inspired by the idea the nurture was the defining element in human development.

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 What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Eliot , Lise (2000-10-03), What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, Bantam, Retrieved on 2011-07-18
Folksonomies: parenting babies development infants physiology