Creating Resilience: Is It Nature or Nurture?

07:52 November 14, 2022

Creating Resilience: Is It Nature or Nurture?

There is a growing debate among scientists about how people face difficulties and recover from them.

The word resilience describes the ability to deal with stress and to recover from it.

The researchers are asking, ‘why do some people recover and others struggle after traumatic events such as child abuse, gun violence or the spread of disease?’

They want to know whether the ability to recover from stress is in our nature, in our genes, or in the way we were brought up by our parents, how we were nurtured.

Research suggests that both nature and nurture are responsible for creating resilience. But researchers say neither guarantees recovery from hardship.

The American Psychological Association says anyone can learn resilience through kinds of behaviors, thoughts and actions. But that it is not always easy.

In the mid-1990s, research in the United States connected negative childhood experiences with problems in adulthood, like poor mental and physical health. The research also said that each additional negative experience increased risk later on.

Many studies have tried to answer, ‘Why some children are more at risk for some bad experiences than others?’

Dr. Thomas Boyce is a researcher and treats children in California. He wanted to find the answer to that question because of his own family.

He was very close to his younger sister. They experienced a difficult childhood. As they grew up, Boyce’s life seemed to progress, but his sister experienced struggles and mental problems.

Boyce said he discovered one in five children have a higher biological response to stress. He said they show signs of too much activity in the brain’s fight-or-flight response and in stress hormones.

Observers say that children like these have higher rates of physical and mental problems when raised in a stressful family environment.

Boyce said that additional evidence suggests that these sensitive children do very well with nurturing and supportive parenting.

Ananda Amstadter is a researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. She studies traumatic stress and genetics, the study of genes. She said that her research suggests genes and environment equally influence resilience. She said that there is no single resilience gene and that many genes are probably involved.

Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi are researchers at Duke University in the state of North Carolina. They have found a connection between differences in genes that help to control emotions and a higher risk for depression or bad behavior in children who experience abuse.

Dr. Dennis Charney studies ways to overcome difficulties in life; he also works at Mount Sinai Health system in the state of New York. He said that our “genes are not destiny.”

Trauma can affect the development of areas in the brain that control anxiety and fear. Treatments like talk therapy and medication can help people who have experienced trauma. Charney also said that a loving family, good friends and a positive experience in school could correct the negative effects.

Steeve Biondolillo is now a 19-year-old college student. He spent his early life in Haiti. His family was poor and he experienced other trauma.

At the age of four, his biological parents sent him to an orphanage where he lived for three years. He said this experience was traumatic for him.

"I didn't really understand what was happening,'' he said, “I just got thrown into a big house full of other kids.''

He said that he remembers feeling afraid and alone. He thought he would have to live there forever.

Then came the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The disaster killed more than 100,000 people and destroyed the capital and other towns.

"All the hope that I had suddenly vanished,'' Biondolillo said.

Biondolillo survived and he was adopted by an American family that took him to the United States. His new life gave him many opportunities. But he was still frightened by past traumas from Haiti.

His adoptive parents wanted to help, so they got him and his brother involved in an after-school program at the local Boys & Girls Club where they could have fun. The adults there were supportive, and he talked about his experiences. He said that they made him feel supported and loved.

Now Steeve is in his second year of college. He is studying social work. He wants to give back to society by helping and nurturing others.

Biondolillo said that his life has been a path from being a fearful child to a “proud young man with big goals and a big future.''

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Lindsey Tanner wrote this article for The Associated Press. Faith Pirlo adapted it for Learning English.


stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.

traumatic – adj. causing someone to become very upset in a way that can lead to serious mental and emotional problems

trait – n. a quality that makes one person or thing different from another

negative – adj. emphasizing the bad side of a person, situation, or thing

fight-or-flight response – n. (psychology) the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system to a stressful event, which prepares the body to either fight or flee a situation

hormone – n. one of several chemicals produced in the body that influence growth and development

destiny – n. what will happen in the future; the thing that someone or something will experience in the future

anxiety – n. fear and nervousness about what might happen

orphanage – n. a place where children whose parents have died can live and be cared for

kids – n. (informal) children

vanish – v. to disappear


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