How Genes Influence Child Development

By Kendra Cherry Updated on March 16, 2020

Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD

What determines how a child develops? While it is impossible to account for each and every influence that contributes to who a child eventually becomes, what researchers can do is look at some of the most apparent factors. These include things such as genetics, parenting, experiences, friends, family, education, and relationships. By understanding the role that these factors play, researchers are better able to identify how such influences contribute to development. Overview Think of these influences as building blocks. While most people tend to have the same basic building blocks, these components can be put together in an infinite number of ways. Consider your own overall personality. How much of who you are today was shaped by your genetic background and how much is a result of your lifetime of experiences? This question has puzzled philosophers, psychologists, and educators for hundreds of years and is frequently referred to as the nature versus nurture debate. Are we the result of nature (our genetic background) or nurture (our environment)? Today, most researchers agree that child development involves a complex interaction of both nature and nurture.1 Nature vs. Nurture While some aspects of development may be strongly influenced by biology, environmental influences may also play a role. For example, the timing of when the onset of puberty occurs is largely the result of heredity, but environmental factors such as nutrition can also have an effect.2 From the earliest moments of life, the interaction of heredity and the environment works to shape who children are and who they will become. While the genetic instructions a child inherits from their parents may set out a road map for development, the environment can impact how these directions are expressed, shaped or event silenced. The complex interaction of nature and nurture does not just occur at certain moments or at certain periods of time; it is persistent and lifelong. In order to understand child development, it is important to look at the biological influences that help shape child development, how experiences interact with genetics and some of the genetic disorders that can have an impact on child psychology and development.