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Q: Nature/nurture debate ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: Nature/nurture debate
Category: Health
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 27 Jan 2003 15:03 PST
Expires: 26 Feb 2003 15:03 PST
Question ID: 149256
In the nature/nuture debate, what is the impact of the environment
(physicaly and emotions of the mother) in the womb on the individual
in regards to personality?
Subject: Re: Nature/nurture debate
Answered By: umiat-ga on 27 Jan 2003 22:40 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello, qpet-ga!

 The nature/nurture debate is certainly interesting, and likely to
garner different opinions for a long time to come. The most
interesting aspect of your question is what happens in the womb to
affect personality, versus environmental influences once the child is
born. There is certainly a mountain of research devoted to the topic
of nature vs. nurture after birth. Research on this topic while the
child is in utero is more limited.

 From the nature of your question, I am assuming you are focusing
strictly on the effects of maternal health and emotion on personality,
and not on learning disorders, retardation, etc. Therefore, I have
purposely stayed away from researching those areas.

 The following material is divided into the emotional and physical
influences on the child in utero, and the ways that maternal
health/non-health can affect the personality of the child.

Emotional Influences:

Depression during Pregnancy Can Affect a Child's Future Health
 "Women who are depressed while pregnant are known to be more likely
to have infants who show increased irritability, erratic sleep
patterns and diminished responsiveness. A mother's prenatal depression
may also put her child at risk for problem behavior during the early
elementary school years."
 "A mother's psychological well-being is important for her child's
well-being, even before birth and through childhood. In our study,
mothers' depressive symptoms during pregnancy were related to
children's behavioral problems 8 to 9 years later."
 "Mothers who reported prenatal depression had a threefold increased
risk of having children with a high level of delinquency or
 "They were also 8.5 times more likely to have children with a high
level of total problems, including delinquency, aggressiveness and
symptoms of depression or anxiety."

Read "Mom's Depression While Pregnant Can Affect Child's Health."
Abstracted from Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry December 2001;40:1367-1374. 

Prenatal Stress of the Pregnant Mother May Affect Children

 It has been surmised that emotional stress during pregnancy may have
as much impact on the fetus in the womb as drugs and alcohol. The
fluctuation in hormones and blood flow to the fetus during prenatal
stress can certainly affect the intrauterine environment. Therefore,
it is plausible that these changes can affect a child's development
and personality.
 Thus far, the only studies measuring maternal stress have been
conducted on rodents and non-human primates. The research has
indicated poorer learning ability and a lesser ability to cope with
stress. A few studies have confirmed that maternal stress during
pregnancy can lead to "deficits of regulatory control of behavior
during childhood and psychiatric disorders in adulthood."
Interestingly, males tend to be less affected by prenatal stress than
 At this point, animal studies are not indicative of the role
pregnancy and emotional stress may have on a human child.

Read "Prenatal/Perinatal Stress and it's Impact on Psychosocial Child
Development," by Janet DiPietro, PhD. Johns Hopkins University.

 "Evidence shows that high levels of stress during pregnancy can
contribute to premature births and lower birth weight and may even
adversely affect a baby's temperament." According to Janet A.
DiPietro, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and associate professor
in the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the Johns Hopkins
University School of Public Health, "We found that when women report a
lot of stress, the fetus's heart rate becomes flatter, and the fetus
moves less frequently. While these signs do not necessarily mean the
fetus is in trouble, it may mean that the nervous system is developing
less well." It seems likely that chemicals that are released during
times of stress can affect the temperament of the baby later on."
 "In fact, she continues, "We have been able to predict some aspects
of temperament from before birth through the first year. If mom's
emotions affect how the fetus behaves, her emotions during pregnancy
may contribute to the shaping of his or her temperament and, possibly,
the baby's development."

Read "Secrets From Inside the Womb." Aetna InteliHealth (updated
6/22/2001) at

Healthy Prenatal Environment Can Produce Well-Adapted Children
 "In the 1970s, experiments done by Torsten Wiesel and David Hubel
produced scientific evidence indicating that there is an important
"window of opportunity" during pregnancy...  when the emotional
circuits of the brain are most sensitive to programming.  It is during
this time that parents can lay down foundations of self-esteem and
emotional security by literally setting the stage for the brain’s
emotional development."
 "This building of the neural structure in the brain does not merely
encompass health -- it creates the trust and security that are
essential for bonding the child with the world so he or she can
actually learn more easily.  They imply, too, that if the "window" is
missed, parents are playing with a handicap."
 "Society’s challenge is to raise children who are both mentally and
emotionally intelligent."

Read "Parents' Early Choices Affect Children's Emotional
Intelligence," by Oliver M. Morton, PhD. Learning Place Online at

Physical Influences:

Testosterone Levels during Pregnancy may Affect Female Behavior:

 "Researchers have found evidence that maternal blood levels of
testosterone can bring out the "tomboy" in young girls. "The higher
the level of maternal testosterone, the more likely it is that girls
will enjoy activities typically considered male behavior,like playing
with trucks or guns."
 The study, conducted by researchers from the City University in
London, followed 679 children from the womb to age 3 1/2. Testosterone
levels of maternal blood were tested during pregnancy. As the children
grew older, mothers and teachers were asked to fill out questionaires
and the childrens' behavior was observed.
"After controlling the data for such factors as maternal education,the
presence of older siblings, a male partner living with the mother in
the home, and how closely the parents followed traditional gender
roles, the researchers found an association between maternal levels of
testosterone and the way girls behaved at preschool age. The higher
the levels of testosterone in pregnancy, the more likely girls were to
score high on the questionnaire."
 Interestingly, young boys do not seem to be affected by maternal
blood levels of testosterone.This may be attributed to the higher
levels of testosterone already existent in the male fetus coupled with
encouragement to engage in male-oriented activities.
 This study would seem to lend "credence to the nature side of the
debate because it appears that hormone levels in the mother can affect
a child's later behavior," according to Dr. Charles Goodstein, an
associate professor of psychiatry at New York University School of
Medicine and the president-elect of the Psychoanalytic Association of
New York.
 However,he also states that "It's hardly ever nature or nurture.It's
usually both.Simply because we inherit a genetic makeup doesn't mean
our life is set in stone."

Read "Born to be a Tomboy," by Serena Gordon. Health Scout News.
(2002) at

The Effects of Prenatal Achohol Consumption on Child's Behavior and

 It has been well documented that excessive abuse of alcholol while
the child is in utero can have a significant impact on development and
personality. Children may have "trouble getting along with others and
controlling their behavior." Difficulty paying attention and trouble
learning are also symptoms displayed by children whose mothers have
abused alcohol during pregnancy.

Read "Drinking and Your Pregnancy." National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism.
Smoking During Pregnancy can Affect a Child's Personality

 "Two new studies have linked prenatal tobacco exposure to negative
behavior in toddlers.." "In a study conducted by Dr. Judith Brook, Dr.
David Brook, and Dr. Martin Whiteman of the Mount Sinai School of
Medicine in New York City, mothers who smoked during pregnancy
indicated that their toddlers exhibited more negative behaviors -
impulsiveness, risk-taking, and rebelliousness - than mothers who did
not smoke during pregnancy reported among their children."
 An interesting aspect of the study reveals that smoking during
pregnancy predisposes a child to experiment with smoking in
adolescence even more than merely growing up in a home with smoking
adults."Dr. Cornelius, Dr. Day, and their colleagues at the University
of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that not only does such
exposure to maternal smoking predict early experimentation, it also
appears linked to child anxiety, depression, and behaviors such as
hitting and biting others."

Read "Maternal Smoking During Pregnancy Associated With Negative
Toddler Behavior and Early Smoking Experimentation,"by Josephine
Thomas, NIDA NOTES Contributing Writer. NIDA Notes. Volume 16, Number
1 (March 2001) at

 I hope these references provide you with a good understanding of how
both physical and emotional maternal health during pregnancy can
affect aspects of a child's personality as they grow. If you need
further clarification before rating this answer, please don't hesitate
to ask.


Google Search Strategy
nature vs. nurture mothers health
+emotions during +pregnancy +affect child
qpet-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thank you, umiat-ga. Excellent answer!

Subject: Re: Nature/nurture debate
From: umiat-ga on 28 Jan 2003 07:37 PST
Thank you very much, qpet!
Subject: Re: Nature/nurture debate
From: dave26572-ga on 10 Mar 2005 08:17 PST
For a summary of the scientific medical research on the effects of
drinking alcohol on FAS, visit "Fetal Alcohol Syndrome" at

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