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Ryan Alexander

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Do humans have a "Human Nature" or are our behaviors motivated by our cultural backgrounds?

I have this conversation with thinkers all the time. In my opinion any beginning philosopher must identify their idea of human nature before they can move forward with their idea's about the world or about an ideal world.

Some individuals that I have talked to though have brought up the point of nature versus nurture. That possible fact that the ideas of the west that humans need instant gratification, are greedy and selfish may only apply to societies that allow this ideology to flourish and prosper.

So, I guess the real question is...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture? Are we really all that different?

I personally don't believe so.

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    Jun 30 2012: I have yet to meet any form of life whose main purpose was anything other than to survive.
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    jing du

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    Jul 4 2012: thank you for your responses.sure we have a lot of natural behaviors which are sharing with animals ,and we developed many nurtural behaviors as individuals. and we also have some natural behaviors which inherit from the cultural behaviors ,like smile ,language ,walk ... i think all the behaviors motivated by genes' desire to survive and improve.
  • Jul 3 2012: There iare a number of good points here. I see that there are many ways of looking at the problem
    we might go to general semantics or phenomonology or who knows what.
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    Jun 30 2012: Human nature comes with individual specifics but is at the base homogenous. Culture converts part of it for the better or for worse and adds a lot to it.
    The culture based part can change or collaps the natural based part cannot.
  • Jul 29 2012: One of my favorite examples is, (I forget the exact source), that it's actually pretty hard to get your average person to kill another person!
    It takes a lot of training to get a soldier to become "efficient" at killing. In most early wars (up until the 1900's, I think), MOST "soldiers" were shooting just to make noise & follow-orders to "fire" - but were missing on purpose, or just reloading for others.
    It's a comforting thought that it's that difficult! (You would think that with all the violence on television & in the movie-theaters {on-screen & off, now} that it would be just part of our violent nature; but maybe those medias are only part of our "training.")
    Are we spending more time interactively learning human nature from interacting naturally, or are we spending more time learning from (about to be interactive) artificial cultural medias?

    We philosophize - then philosophize on those philosophies, (Stan Tenen speaks of this); to introspect & search for truth & meaning to find strength & expose weakness; to grow in all ways.

    I heard long ago that humans were the only species to use a tool; which was wrong. Then I heard that humans were the only species to use a tool to make a tool. That'll probably be wrong too. I've heard stories of elk taking turns running & sliding on ice for fun, heard dogs laughing, I've been harangued from afar by a crow. I've seen pictures of elephants painting and dogs building crude little teepee shells with twigs.

    I wouldn't even say it's "human nature" to "think," as was it luck that we began to cook our food, thus lessening the forces on our mandibles & allowing the skull greater flexibility & possibile growth of the forebrain?

    One brain researcher said that after his 25 years of research, he could do no better at eliciting emotion in a person than he could with a simple song. Music is central to every human culture.

    Eldon Taylor has some interesing things to say about free will & consciousness, (though I'm not sure which di
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    Jul 7 2012: I believe that human behavior is motivated by human nature. As stated in a previous post, our sole purpose is survival, which I would expand on to say is inclusive of procreation. The one thing that distinguishes humans from other species is the ability to think logically and with reason. Our ability to "think" has led to the existence of many cultures. However, even though it may seem that we are different because of such, looking at things from a bird's eye view would prove otherwise. Some examples of things different cultures have in common are as follows: organizing, language, religion, art, hierarchy, etc. The creation of culture, which I view as human behavior, is a result of our human nature. It is our nature to think which yields "Technology, Entertainment, and Design".
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    Jul 6 2012: "Do humans have a "Human Nature" or are our behaviors motivated by our cultural backgrounds?"**

    Both. We are a blank slate with little bits of variations in physiology (but, basically all the same baby), until we are grown within cultures and societies.

    So, I guess the real question is...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture?**

    Universal human nature... What do all humans share? Well; emotions, intuitions, cognitive abilities, attachments, anxiety, optimism.... Yeah, there is a basic format to the human psyche... But, just because we are all alike doesn't motivate any action or awareness of finding a common nature -unless- the education nurtures that critical analysis.

    But, a good question then; what is being human?

    Being morally sound to other humans? Having certain marks of the mental?

    Well, this criteria does not exist necessarily in nature; 1. since our basic format is created for evolving to survive. 2. because it is up to language and culture in order to create these questions! Rather this criteria must be manifested by consensus of what is in our nature.

    For me; human nature is no different than any other mammal... Example being our anthropocentric attitudes - "we are the dominating force of the universe" mentality that is innate, is no different than any other animal believing they are the best! This is necessary for survival in order to push through hardships and natural struggles... What would you do to eat if you were starving - dying? Is that answer apart of this?

    Are we really all that different?**

    Well depending on your circumstance of random chance; global position, age, educations, religion, belief systems, natural intelligence/personality type, monetary status, neural misfiring(s), symmetrical body or not.... Yes, we all are very different until we decide to find common ground. In the macro-scheme of things? One species, one nature? Are we different? Perhaps, but mainly, no
  • Jul 6 2012: The "natural" position of the human hand, is open, not a closed fist.
    I agree that our "nature" as it were, is not to be constrained by our nature and that we have at our disposal many, many responses to any kind of situation that comes into our lives.

    That means we are not being dictated to by "nature".

    It would also mean that most, if not all, of our behaviors, that are mistakenly labeled as our "human nature" are learned, well or not so well, and come from experience, if not simple education, that may in fact be wrong itself, erroneous or outright manipulative.

    What we see, I believe and agree, is a perversion of our wonderful, peaceful, loving nature, because so many, too many, are not getting their needs met. Anyone would act differently but also would act in ways that are not our nature.

    If we have a nature, we see it when tsunami's hit. We are it when earthquakes and other kinds of natural catastrophes occur. The other ways we act and behave, that many want to, even wish, is our "human nature" are false, that is, those of war, deceit, manipulation and so forth.

    If we have a nature it is to survive. I think or believe it is extremely dangerous, damaging and deceitful to continue to spread a belief that what has occurred for so long and so regularly, is our human nature. I believe it just as much as I believe it is dangerous, damaging and deceitful to keep alive the belief that those who forget the past or forget history, are condemned to repeat it.

    Indeed, you cannot repeat what you cannot remember, so it is those who remember the past who are condemned to repeating it and that has been proved time and again, for all time.

    As was once said, "experience is of supreme value in life. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

    But still we haven't learned because all we have been taught, all we have learned, are lies.
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    Jul 6 2012: ...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture? Are we really all that different?


    the concept of nurture is not as well validated in the literature as we might expect. The fundamental wiring of the brain appears to predict far more of our lives and actions than the nature/nurture debate suggests. We can see the basic commonalities and differences by remembering the achronim OCEAN. On a scale of one to ten ask yourself to rate your own or another's : Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion/Intorversion, Agreeableness, and Neutocisim. It appears that we all have these fundamental characteristics in varying degrees and they form the foundation of our interactions with the world. There are other qualities, of course, these are the most reliable. Add culture on top as a guiding prinipal which directs such impulses into what is acceptable in our society..
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    Jul 6 2012: both
  • Jul 6 2012: We define our personalities through a cultural background but what makes us human is our "human nature", which I believe dates back to our primordial state where we relied mostly on instinct to survive.
  • Jul 5 2012: We define human and we define nature, so absolutely yes from our perspective. Cultural variations are simply quibbling over the scope of the meaning. The larger question is ... is nature human? (I think not) ;-)
  • Jul 3 2012: Human nature is that which all humans have in common. This can and will be established by science.

    Of course, science still has a great deal of work to do in this area.

    "So, I guess the real question is...is human behavior motivated by a universal "human nature" or is human behavior learned through culture? Are we really all that different?"

    Human behavior is motivated by human nature and by culture.

    I am really very different from a suicide bomber. I am really very different from a pederast. I am really very different from a saint.
  • Jul 3 2012: All humans do have a foundation, who they are in terms of their human nature. Humans are animals after all. We have desires, urges, we hunger and do what we need to in order to survive. That is innate to each of us. But humans are special in the sense that we can choose whether or not we listen to our hunger and urges, unlike other animals. Who we are is what we ourselves determine. Sometimes it isn't about nature or nurture. Sometimes it is just about the individual. Nurture and nature are factors but I believe they are only small parts.
    Our life experiences can influence our behaviors but at the same time each person reacts differently to the same experience. The book 'The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother', is about how different parenting is needed for different children. We are all different. We all do different things with our nature and nurture to create a unique person.
  • Jul 2 2012: Not everyone is self absorbed in nature, but, we do things that we want to do. We do things that interest us. Why would we do something someone else wants us to do if that is what you want to know. The reality is that sometimes you need a reason to do things for other people, it would make sense if you have free will right? There are reasons to be ethical and care for others. I will not justify them here as this is not the proper forum for me to get off topic, but, if people gathered enough information before making a selfish action, their actions might not be so selfish.
  • Jul 2 2012: Show me a culture that at no point waged war over resources, practiced religion,and had social classes. There absolutely are innate drives humans have, depending on the environment, some get more nurtured than others. We all have a very dark side to us and we all have a very kind and compassionate side. Depending upon your upbringing and experiences some traits can become dominant. To say that we do not have an inert nature, is to dismiss genetics completely and to say genes are the sole culprit behind behavior, is to dismiss obvious truths about the brains plasticity.
    • Jul 7 2012: Studies in genetics have shown that genes give us many ways of responding rather than having predetermined behaviors we blindly follow.
      We all have capabilities but I wouldn't call some of them a dark side. Compassion is another response we may choose depending upon the situation, meaning the environment, and our assessment of it.

      As you say, "depending upon upbringing and experiences.....etc." shows to me anyway, that you believe it isn't human nature since you list ways that affect how one responds.

      As someone once said, "our nature, if there is one, is not to be constrained by our nature" and we live and function in the most diverse ways imaginable. More so than any other species. I don't see how a "nature' could be the same for all, in that respect.

      And yes, how did you know my brain was plastic? I couldn't afford the more expensive one.
      • Jul 9 2012: Mr. chance, I think what I was trying to say is that there is some underlying nature in humans. If you subscribe to evolution, then you must admit, we evolved certain traits that allow for survival. Society seems to be in, what i like to call, "primitive withdrawal". Many of the aspects we have evolved, seem to sit in opposition to the idea of a society, where everyones needs are met. Humans seem to be capable of overriding primitive impulse and this is both the root of guilt and personal growth.

        The role of environment may play a larger role than that of a human nature. However we all have human brains and human brains share the amygdala and limbic systems which evoke certain emotional responses. These responses can and are conditioned, but based on environmental and biological truths we all share. We need to feed or we die, we need to drink or we die. I think this can be classified as inherent due to evolution and seemingly mammalian traits.

        Yes, i know, the titanium brain seems to still be reserved for the trust fund fellows, what shame.
  • Jul 2 2012: I think all people are greedy and selfish because it's the best way to survive. It's not always a bad thing. We learned to gather in tribes and later cities just because it's benefits our own individual interests, not for the sake of civilization as a whole. We try to maintain peace, not because we're good, but because it's more profitable, than war. It's both a survival instinct and a rational choice.
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    Jul 2 2012: Read "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker.
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    Jul 2 2012: As a mother, I have witnessed certain behaviors that seem innate in my children, as well as some definitely learned behaviors.
    The drive to survive, to have basic needs met, to defecate, to sleep ~ those are basic, innate parts of the nature of the human animal. We would be able to go on living without language or hearing or any outside influence as long as those natural, instinctual needs were met.
    I think we can see the argument of 'nature vs. nuture' really coming into effect in distinctive personality traits. Some would be considered 'nature' ~ natural, innate qualities ~ and some 'nurture', or learned behaviors, like those attributed to an entitled child/adult (whining to get ones way, for example).

    There also really is no accounting for things like chemical imbalances, cognitive disturbances, narcissism, personality disorders, etc. Humans are far too intricate to really pigeonhole behaviors into a this or that ideology.

    In general I think humans are innately self-for-self at the onset, and depending on what they are programmed with, they can become self-for-others ~ it's the 'nurture' or lack thereof, that triggers perspective and behavioral changes....and positive nurturing doesn't always lead to positive behaviors.
  • Jul 2 2012: Ignore all the other comments above, these are comments most likely made by the 99%. There is a universal natural human nature, and its to collect information, attempt to solve that information, and judge off that information. The real difference between the people of different cultures is most of their cultures only allow people to collect specific information or don't advertise enough information and in some cases distribute wrong information. Those who have the right information sometimes have a lack of influence compared to those who have the wrong information. This sums up about 99% of the world. Only one percent of the world has the right information and the influence to use it. Everyone else is basically like a fat person. They all want to influence things and don't know how to use influence anywhere past the point of self sustainment. In the end they end up being like a fat person with a lot of food. The fat person doesn't wait until they are hungry to eat, they just eat and poo out all the food until there is none left for the people who do wait to get hungry to eat. The metaphor is to describe the difference between people who don't know how to use resources and people who do know how to use resources. A man with a million dollars will lose it all if he doesn't know how to use it, burning through it quick and never making an investment in anything.

    To sum up what I am trying to say is that people take in information and believe they have enough information to take action or make a judgement upon something. They don't. There is a starting point for knowledge and our bodies have five methods of collecting information from the outside world. If not enough information is gained about something, that person shouldn't act if they don't have to act. The people who believe they do need to act and call the bad judgement they make a learning experience need to look behind them at the damages they left. Other people like them will only leave more damage.
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      Jul 2 2012: Looking to better understand your argument. So, what your saying is that Human's have a very different nature than animals in the wild and actually, have a meta cognitive nature of obtaining information?

      That gaining and sharing information has been and always will be the sole reason that humans do anything?

      Do you believe that human beings could survive on their acquisition of information alone?

      Do you disregard the information given to you with prior comments that human nature is to do what is in your own self interest, that we are self-absorbed beings ect.?

      Tell me more about what you think about these questions and your theory itself.
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    Jul 2 2012: our behaviors motivated by our culture, because our culture defines what is right and what is wrong,you have to follow the right way to get more oppotunity to propagate your gene._propagating gene is our Human Nature...am i right?
    • Jul 2 2012: There are many behaviors that come before culture. Think about a baby: grasping, suckling, crying and doing these things to fill selfish needs like nutrition. Surviving is beneficial for evolution. If a life form does not survive long enough to reproduce then they likely will not continue as a species, and traits that do not kill us (in a way that stops proliferation) replicate. Survival behavior is something that continues throughout our lives and we incorporate our culture into it.
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        Jul 3 2012: i believe we are talking aout humanbeing's behaviors which seperate us from animals...
        • Jul 3 2012: That’s an interesting perspective on the subject :-) I didn’t realize that was what you meant, nor had I looked at it from that perspective -- "human nature" as a term for an Identity shared only by humans. This is a broad and interesting topic. There are many things we share with the other animals (mainly other mammals, with respect to behavior/culture), but there are also many differences.

          Even apes and monkeys develop a cultural sense of right and wrong, and in order to be accepted into their culture they have to abide by this (different packs have different cultures). The ones that abide are seen as more attractive and get more opportunity to propagate their genes (this also happens with humans, as you noted). Distinctly, humans form more complex “ideals” which may or may not override their more primitive behaviors, and make mating more than just a right from opportunity. These ideals are often tied to culture :-)

          My interpretation of the subject presented is: Do humans have inherent behavioral habits (often called "human nature"), which may or may not be distinct to humans. Or, do humans learn all of their behavioral habits through cultures that have developed over time?

          Both: We develop some routine behaviors though our cultures, but there are also behaviors that we do naturally. There are so many of us that, through breading, we have developed a broad and mixed variety of natural behaviors. Take aggression for example: Just like other animals there are humans that have (naturally) more and less active areas of the brain that stimulate and inhibit aggression.

          Human children also have a long period of brain development which requires longer periods of care and nurturing from their parents. This long period allows parents and cultures to influence, mold, and teach greater control over these natural behaviors as the brain develops. Humans are very fortunate to develop this way, because it allows us to more easily become more than just our genes.
        • Jul 3 2012: *continued

          Among other things, this allows us to have larger functional societies, because through this process (and others -- some of which are shared with other animals) we can shape our behaviors more.
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        Jul 4 2012: thank you for your responses.sure we have a lot of natural behaviors which are sharing with animals ,and we developed many nurtural behaviors as individuals. and we also have some natural behaviors which inherit from the cultural behaviors ,like smile ,language ,walk ... i think all the behaviors motivated by genes' desire to survive and improve
  • Jul 2 2012: Thomas Hobbes argued that when you travel in a field and find a rock turn it over and describe what you find. What you find are insects. These insects compete for and destroy one another for the resources under the rock. He was arguing the point to express the need for government. Without it, anarchy will prevail. I'm paraphrasing of course. But is this a truism? In my experience and still limited understanding of all societies, I believe it is true. So, then, what does this say to us about the nature of man. I believe it tells us that self absorption, barely distinguishable from self preservation, rules as the nature of man. Consequently, humans are all on a continuum from self-absorbed to other-centered. Where we are on that scale dictates how functional our interactions are. Therefore, our nature's origin is self-absorption and our nurture then determines our other-centeredness. Our othercenteredness is then the result of our environments, parents, teachers, communities, culture and so forth. In societies, or at least our society, we are bombarded by all forms of media and I believe education to be and do your own thing. That the sense of self and ones expression of self is always healthy. Look at how many discussions are about, what I think, like or dis-like. Most conflicts, marital or otherwise are about self-absorption. Look at depression, it begins and is maintained by a focus, rumination of self. What hurts, what I'm bad at, how ugly I am, how overweight I am. If my hypothesis is correct, we should see such correlations in most, if not all, interactional diagnosis. The treatment then is not about symptom management, it's about people moving from self-absorbed to other-centered in both cognitive and behavioral manners. There is much more to be said about such ideas and I hope this idea is helpful.
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      Jul 2 2012: Definitely is! I love Thomas Hobbes!

      This conversation usually comes up when I'm talking to a person that extremely liberal more likely than not a socialist. My argument stems from Hobbes idea of human nature that we need to build incentives to make people work and produce in society based off the idea that we are self-absorbed. (through living in life I think we can see how true this is)

      Where as some socialists would say that this idea of human nature is untrue and that it is a redefinition of culture that we need to allow a form of government to prosper. (And once again what is this "redefinition" they speak of? I made my own assumptions)

      My peers whom I talk to about this bring up eastern societies who they claim are more open to communist/socialist governments. Their argument is that the western societies have a self fulfilling prophecy that they should be greedy and selfish. So, they are. This is the argument they present. So, I'll leave it at that.
      • Jul 2 2012: The implications of adopting such an argument are enormous. Imagine if we all looked for the self-absorptions in our interactions and worked hard at changing them to be more othercentered. Relationships would be far more healthy and rich in intimacy. Imagine if we understood how hurtful our self absorption is and how that would change if we were simply committed to never be hurtful. As a clinician, I have seen clients make lots of progress on their journey with a better understanding of this idea. The focus in no longer on being right or even on being smart--it would be on connection--two ideas that often don't fit, rightness and connectedness,
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          Jul 2 2012: You brought up a point at the very end in which I love, about making connections and attempting to be RIGHT. I do believe that an open mind to ideas is great to learn and build a better society but I also believe that it's very important to question as much as we can so as to get a better idea of what is valid and true. I have definitely made the mistake in the past where emotions have gotten the better of me and being right was more important than making a connection and learning/understanding but I feel that like with everything in life there must be a balance between the two. Not just a black and white good and bad but a balance of attempting to find truth and making intelligent connections.

          Anyways, lol
          I agree, that being other centered would create a richer society and that it definitely would make society as a whole better. The question is though, is it human nature to think this way? Is it everyone's first instinct to think about the world in othercentered way?

          Thomas Hobbes would argue, that even the individuals that would be othercentered were doing so in a way that saw themselves in these situations and through their own self interest would be "other centered" because if in that situation they would want society to act in that way. S,o when basing policy decisions on the idea of human nature, my assumption I make is that we MUST take into account what humans typically would do through the idea of human nature but what do you think? Do you think that this is a valid point to make when considering public policy? Can we base a sovereign system off this ideology?
    • Jul 3 2012: While there are trends in human behavior, there are human NATURES with an S, the real problem is human beings don't understand the functioning of their bodies and minds and hence can't define 'their nature' from a scientific standpoint.

      I don't believe the standard american/western version that all human beings are selfish/self-centered. I believe there are people with SUPERIOR natures, superior morality, superior justice, superior values, just like there are people with superior intelligence. I do not believe modern american values are superior in any way. Since mediocrity always outbreeds excellence by a large margin.

      The real issue comes down to our inability to manufacture traits, trends and genetically alter children to be born with sound functioning biology - i.e. superior natures. Many people are born with good natures but are surrounded by violent, stupid, greedy buffoons which they must tolerate and suffer.
    • Jul 6 2012: I agree with you, Clint. I too believe that human nature is one of self absorption brought on from the drive to persevere. Just look at children. Psychologists have argued for years that it is within a child's nature to be selfish, to only focus on their own wants and needs and to be without consideration of the wants and needs of others, even those they love like mom and dad. So where do some people get ther othercenteredness from?

      Like you, I would say it comes from "our environments, parents, teachers, communities, culture and so forth." We are taught that selfishness is a negative characteristic in schools, churches, social gatherings, etc. We are raised to be polite and considerate of others wants, needs, feelings and intentions. So, I believe this is a learned behavior, which is why there are some people who are more other-centered than others. Some humans are better other-centered learners than the rest just as some are better literary students or science students than others.

      But why do we feel the need to learn othercenterdness? Could it be because we need community or society in order to truly survive? Sure being self absorbed can help one survive, but that quality of life is dark and dangerous and disastrous.
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    Jul 1 2012: Study and compare the nature of newborn, worldwide. If you find significant differences there, so then will be the nature of our species.
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    Jun 30 2012: I suggest human behaviour is driven by both nature and nurture (including culture) and occasionally reason.

    There is variation of norms across cultures and between individuals in a culture.
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    Jun 30 2012: The phrase "nature of the beast" comes to mind. We seek patterns in all species that we term as norms. Norms are established within cultures. On top of all that we also stereotype such as ... blonds have more fun ... red heads have bad tempers ... french are arrogant ... etc .. you get the picture.

    So when you say "human nature" we are expressing what we believe the expected behavior is to be.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jun 30 2012: Each individuals personality is formed until maturity by what kinds of things they're exposed to and what kind of environment they live in. So, the answer is:neither since every person has their own distinct "human nature" unique to them, in fact, this is all a biochemical process until you reach maturity.