T Nation

The Official 'Nature vs. Nurture' Thread


Did a search on the forum though it's been mentioned in numerous threads, I didn't find a thread dedicated to the discussion of nature and nurture.

Things like the 10,000 hour rule are thrown around a lot. But can 10,000 hours really make up for what Nature gives you?

A great deal of things can be achieved through nurture especially if it is intelligent and dedicated nurture that takes place. Many of us have seen the benefits of this through physique transformations on this site. So I hope this will be an interesting discussion.

I'd say nature has a hand in everything since if someone was born with a major physical disability this will definitely impede any success in sports and other areas where physical ability is important.

I think the interesting question in the nature vs. nurture argument is the existence of innate talent. That is if we have people without any obvious physical advantage or disadvantage which will win out nurture or nature?

Also, if they had the same nurture, then nature must explain any differences in ability that might still persist(?).


I think that this kind of topic has been debated ten million times, and there will never be a clear and concise answer.

I'll start a thread later today... "The official 'Is there a God?' thread."


That's done every second day on the PWI forum.


60-80% Nature
20-40% Nurture


Ha! Too true.

Really didn't mean to shit on the thread, I've come to acknowledge that these threads often cause more damage than anything...


I really don't think a percentage breakdown is a very effective way to view nature vs. nurture. I think it's a little more complicated than that. My own view may also be an oversimplication, but I like to view current ability/performance to be a product (in the mathematical sense) of both potential and experience.

Imagine for a second that you could accurately measure someone's current ability in a very quantifiable sense. I'm pretty sure that the following equation might accurately model someone's ability.

A = P * n / (n + C)


A = ability
P = genetic potential
n = number of hours training / practicing a skill
C is a constant > 0

You'll notice that each additional hour/day (or whatever unit of time you choose) of experience contributes less than the previous one and

limit(n->infinity) of A = P * n / (n + C)

= P

That is to say, sufficient practice / experience allows you to reach your pontential.

The limit / ceiling of your ability is determined by genetics, but your current ability is very much affected by the amount of experience you hold.

Not sure if this makes any sense (to anyone besides myself, that is).


Being born with a disability only means the nurturing must be greater. There are many athletes with serious disabilities that put most people to shame.

I believe it's all about heart. Some can't be stopped by anything short of death. The will to succeed is the most powerful force humans have. The question is, what is will power, nature or nurture.


As a maths grad I really like this one. Of course it is useless since P and C would be different for everyone and near impossible to measure. But still as a concept it's interesting.

I like to think of it this way sometimes. Though I will say that there are obvious limitations on the n->infinity. One in particular that as we age the we are likely to decline in ability especially if it is a physical activity.

In this way we would probably only count hours of training before reaching our "prime".


That's a good question. Is will power developed through nurture or is inherent?

It's kind of like saying the reason that such and such was better at an activity was because he more dedicated and practised more. But then is the fact that he practised more and was more dedicated because his motivated personality was inherent?


The whole point is that P (and C, though mostly P) are different for everybody. If two people both practice/train for something for the same number of hours one of them will probably be better than the other. Initially, that gap might easily be closed with a few additional hours of practice, but eventually genetic potential becomes a limiting factor.

Granted, this is a flat-out gross oversimplification leaving out any number of other factors, and of course you really can't strictly quantify performance that well in most fields/sports but... this equation is mostly just my own attempt to come to terms with how experience and genetic potential affect someone's performance.

I kind of neglected to take aging (and a number of other variables) into account.

How about if I change that lim(n->ifinity) to as n >> C? Granted aging does tend to lead to a decrease in performance, but since n is still growing, this usually results in performance plateau (at least temporarily).

Oh well it's all just speculation on my part anway.


Nature made me very tall. Go nature.


The whole nature or nurture thing is a false dichotomy. What it ends up being is a bit of both.


What is the 10,000 hour rule?


Gettin away from maths a bit (since it will alienate everyone else to continue discussing different models) I will say that it might be interesting to discuss the different "variables" that would affect the ability.

Like as well as total number of hours training I feel that intensity in the training is very important. Also 10 hours in one week is worth more than 2 weeks of 5 hours. In the sense that you'll benefit more from concentrated effort. Also what is done in the hours? Is it effective and efficient use of training time?

I'd say that a great deal of people don't achieve as close to their genetic potential as they think. Genetics in the broad sense doesn't change that much from the generation to generation but standards still improve from generation to generation. I'd say this improvement is down to better "nurture" as it were. I don't think that the current leaders in sports are in particular more genetically gifted than the previous ones that they have surpassed.


after the notion that this is the minimum amount of time it takes to become world class at anything.


Dang I got a lot of hours to go.


Ten hours in one week is usually better than five hours a week for two weeks, but I'd have to offer one caveat there. Depending on what sport or skill you're practicing, training more than a few hours a day may lead to diminishing returns.

This is clearest in the case of resistance training, where anything over an 45-90 minutes per day(give or take, depending on who you ask) may actually be detrimental to your growth. But even in something like chess, practicing more than a few hours per day may lead to a degree of mental exhaustion which inhibits your ability to learn, thereby sabotaging your progress. Meanwhile with something like a musical instrument, you can easily practice 6-8 hours per day.

The more often you practice something, the less you have to relearn it each time you pick it up. If I only practice piano once a week for an hour and you practice it an hour a day, you'll progress more than 7 times as fast, because I'll be busy relearning stuff each week, while you'll just be progressing. Of course, the biggest benefit to more training is that you'll hit that 10000 hour mark that much sooner.

Uh... so that was a really long post in which I basically said, "yeah I agree for the most part." Damn, am I ever verbose.


In all things, genetics are far more important than environmental factors.


I suppose nature might come into it if someone was better able to train more often than someone else. Like again in resistance training when some guys have better recovery capabilities than others. So that nature will let them reach the 10,000 hour mark faster than others.


Only if you have them!