Biological Determinism Activities

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Is human behavior dictated by society or biology? This lesson provides teachers and their students with ways to explore possible answers to this question through biological determinism activities.

Biological Determinism

At its core, biological determinism is that idea that the physical, mental and behavioral attributes of a human are the result of biological factors. Basically, how a person turns out is determined at conception. The activities in this lesson are intended to help students reinforce prior knowledge of biological determinism through individual and group work.

In order to get students into the right mindset, it can be helpful to have a class discussion activity about biological determinism before using the other activities in the lesson. To begin, ask students the following questions and record relevant or insightful responses on the blackboard. During this process, it can be helpful for students to take notes to help them process and review pertinent information.

  • What is biological determinism?
  • Who were some of the major proponents of biological determinism?
  • What were some of the social and political implications of biological determinism?

You can also ask students to offer personal opinions about biological determinism and to support their opinions with historical or modern examples.

Criminal Biology

Biological determinism has been used in the past to connect heredity and physical characteristics to criminal behavior. This activity will encourage groups of students to hypothesize how the lives of specific individuals would have turned out if biological determinism was an accurate way of predicting a person's life and actions.

  • Divide the class into small teams.
  • Instruct each team to research and choose a historical figure or character (real or fictional), who had less than ideal parents or physical appearance.
  • Tell teams to use the principles of biological determinism to extrapolate which types of criminal or anti-social behavior their chosen person would likely participate in.
  • Each team should create a short presentation (with one visual aid) about the alternative life the team has created for their chosen character.
  • After every team has presented, you can have a class vote for the best biological determinism alternative history and award a prize to the winning team.

My Biology

This individual activity will help students better understand biological determinism through personal examination and introspection.

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