Last year I heard the Irish rugby player Paul O’Connell speak at a Youth event.

He spoke about his success and the assumption that he was just naturally talented.

He credits his success to his practice teamwork and commitment to his sport, not natural ability.

One of the most prevalent assumptions I hear is that of nature over nurture.

Every psychology class I take begins with the question of which, nature or nurture is more important.

I think that is a question a lot of people ask.

You know “maybe she’s born with it” etc.

In fairness though, psychology might be partly to blame.

Theorists like Freud focused heavily on biological causes for behavior. The fact that he is still taught doesn’t mean he was right.

Contemporary thinking in the field generally agrees that behavior is the result of an interaction between genes (nature) and learning (nurture).

So from now on I am going to say nature AND nurture and I encourage you to do the same.

The topic of nature and nurture comes up a lot when we talk about talent, creativity and good vs evil.

Are leaders born or made?

Is that dancer great because she has natural ability?

Can criminals be rehabilitated or are they just naturally bad?

A lot of people overestimate the influence of nature, what Paul O’Connell called ” God given talent,” ignoring learning, practice, and commitment.

Why in a world full of motivational speakers and affirmation for every day of the week is it so easy for us to believe that our skills were determined by our biology?

If science has it figured out, why are we still asking the question, nature or nurture?

Language and pop culture perpetuate the myths around ability, success, and morality and that’s what we are going to talk about today.

Photography by Shannon Sweeney

Your words become your thoughts.

How many times have you heard people say its “in their blood”?

The more you say something, or hear something the more true it sounds, right?

So it’s probably fair to say that language has a powerful influence on how we think.

Back to the talented subject with magic in their blood.

The truth is they don’t. While it’s possible that they have some sort of predisposition, its more likely they worked seriously hard.

It’s more likely that they developed an interest and practiced until they were are good as you believe them to be.

Resources were probably put into them and opportunities bred opportunities.

They probably had a great support system too, because let’s face it nobody becomes successful on their own.

All of that is environmental but the language we use to describe it misattributes skill to nature.

When it comes to what you want to do, do you apply the same logic, using the same language?

Lots of people do.

Do you say things like, “I can’t Blog, I don’t have the head for writing/ social media/ the internet.”

So this really matters because not only does it reduce from the effort and work of successful people, but it perpetuates the idea that you can’t do something.

It perpetuates the myth of can’t.

Imagine if everything you were capable of was determined at birth.

Minds are not downloaded into bodies at birth no matter how many times it’s said they are.

How boring would that be?

So really you should mind your language?

Are you a Stark or a Targaryen?

As you know I am a big Game of Thrones fan, or you know I used to be. If you still are, and are not caught up I am going to make reference to plot points and scenes throughout the show. I am also going to make reference to Riverdale and Good Omens, so spoilers obviously.

In the beginning of the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, there is a quote:

Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin, and the world holds its breath.

This was what has been called “foreshadowing,” (I could say more but I won’t) for Daenerys Targaryen seemingly going mad and burning an entire city to the ground.

The fact that from the start, she was sold, raped, lost her husband and baby, lost two of her three dragon children and watched her best friend murdered, not to mention finding out her new lover is in fact her nephew and a threat to the goal she has dedicated her life to, had absolutely nothing to do with it.

It’s because she’s a Targaryen. She succumbed to the madness she was born with.

Cause that’s how it works.

If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense does it?

Sansa is not treated the same. After the battle of Winterfell, Sansa comments to the Hound:

Without Littlefinger and Ramsey and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life.

Sansa is written as a product of her experiences and her survival of all the horrible things that have happened to her.

Her environment is what shaped her.

Game of Thrones personified the nature vs nurture myth in its characters, but it is not the only show to do this.

Riverdale is not exactly known for its realistic storylines, but in the third season, Betty’s “serial killer gene” really did make me laugh.

Presumably Betty will spend season 4 trying to stop the demon on her shoulder from murdering all of her friends.

But it is a serious question, do criminals have something genetically different about them?

I think science is still figuring that out, but even if they do, that doesn’t mean they will definitely become criminals.

It is as true in criminality as it is in success that the kind of environment as person grows in, choice and probably lots of stuff I haven’t even thought of creates criminals, not genes.

There are no demons in our bloodstreams.

Speaking of demons, have you watched Amazon Primes new show Good Omens yet?

I’m about halfway through and I really think they might have it right.

The show is about an angel and a demon trying to stop a preadolescent Anti-Christ from bringing about the apocalypse.

Both heaven and hell have sent people to mold him.

Clearly it is not enough that he be Satan.

I am not sure how it will end, but it is an adaptation of a book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, so I have faith.

There is hope for pop culture yet.

The takeaway

I always think of pop culture as our stories, just like people passed down to family members, wrote fairytales or told over campfires.

We just tell them on a screen. Just like old stories, new stories have power.

They are written from our beliefs, knowledge and fantasy.

It’s not really surprising then that they also perpetuate myths like the nature vs nurture.

I think the language used in them permeates the language we use it real life too.

I live in Ireland and we have our own phrases of course but, I notice in myself and people around me phrases used in American TV.

A good example outside of nature and nurture is “the friend zone.”

Anyone remember where that came from?


It was funny in the 90s, but somehow it has leaked into our culture and now it just pisses people off.

Remember the more you hear something, the more true it sounds.

And your words can become your thoughts.

If you want to Blog, learn to Blog.

If you want to dance, learn to dance.

Nature won’t mind.

Until next time,



3 thoughts on “In Our Veins: A Nature vs Nurture Story

  1. Some people are definitely naturally talented at something’s but as Paul O’Connell said, it’s not just God given talent. My old guitar teacher once told me about a student who used to be tone deaf but kept singing and eventually developed a good voice.

    Ash |


  2. Great use of pop culture references to keep psycho-babble different and interesting to read. One thought that came to mind was whether being raised with underserved praise or “coddled” hinders performance or attitude later in life?


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