An understanding of psychology’s two-pronged approach at targetting both nature and nurture is fundamental to effectively treating mental disorders. Mental illness is today thought to come as a result of a person’s upbringing and experiences as well as purely biological factors, such as genetics. Such an awareness of the origins of psychiatric disorders will hopefully help destigmatize it among the general population.

A common question related to the field of psychology is simply, what is psychology? Psychology can be defined as the study of the behavior of people. Psychology is the discipline which consists of observations and conclusions in relation to how people act, think, and feel. Psychologists often ask, what makes an individual act a certain way? Is it his or her neural makeup? And if so, what in the brain causes this action or behavior? Is it abnormal levels of neurotransmitters or problems with reception of neurotransmitters? On the other hand, it may very well be psychological circumstances that influence one’s behavior. Perhaps a child who had an experience in his or her earlier years will base his or her future decisions or emotional reactions based on that experience. Or one can argue that a person may have a particular attitude because he or she has been taught to think that way, either by family or by society. This is a major question that psychologists seek to address; and as such, they attribute two major factors to the interpretation of the behavior of people: nature and nurture.

“Nature” is described as the biological causes for one’s behavior. With the advent of the study of neuroscience, we now have a lot of knowledge on the scientific roots of one’s behavior or personality. A person who is depressed, for example, is according to new research, likely to have a smaller hippocampus. Sadder moods may be associated with lower serotonin. People who are more outgoing, on the other hand, may have a larger medial orbitofrontal cortex. People who are motivated may perhaps have more dopamine in their system. Anxiety is often traced to an imbalance of glutamate and GABA, the former of which speeds up processes, both physical and mental, and the latter of which slows them down. In the case of an imbalance between the two, one’s body is constantly on high-activity mode and it is more difficult to calm such a person down. Certain personality traits can be traced down genetically as well. Schizophrenic behavior is often associated with genetics.

However, another major determining factor of people’s behavior is “nurture”, which is the experiences that a person has and how they affect him or her. In other words, this is how a person’s environment shapes him or her. A common psychological technique for treating mental disorders is looking into childhood memories. According to this theory, one develops deeply ingrained beliefs based on which he or she encounters as a child and they must be overcome if they are negative. Peer pressure, the concept of conformity, and other topics of social psychology determine how a person will act. For example, America as a country values individualism, so an American entrepreneur trying to succeed in the ever-competitive world of business isn’t unusual here, due to the values the person has been brought up to embody. However, a personality trait of individuality in more community-oriented countries as one may find in Europe is considered unusual. Here, the person is an individualist because he was grown up to value that trait. As such, a person experiences different things in life and because of them he may shape his behaviors and actions.

Essentially, psychology is both nature and nurture. Neural activity goes on in the brain regardless, but this neural activity which is related to psychology may be either because a person was born with a given brain makeup, or episodes in his or her life have shaped his or her psychology. Not to mention how much information the phenomenon neuroplasticity gives us, which is the idea that combines both nature and nurture together, in that even environmental factors can change a person’s neural activity and brain. This is the essence of psychology- why do we act that way? Both hard science and social science give us the answer. And with this answer we can move on to discover more about ourselves and others, why we are how we are, and how to live and help others, through the right treatment- whether psychological or psychiatric- live with the most optimal psychological health and functioning.