Range of Reaction: Definition & Child Development Psychology

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  • 0:01 Nature vs. Nurture
  • 0:38 Range of Reaction
  • 1:35 Examples
  • 3:14 Implications in Child…
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

The debate between 'nature' and 'nurture' as the most important influence in an organism's life is one of the classical debates of psychology. Range of reaction, also known as reaction range, is one answer to this debate.

Nature vs. Nurture

There is an age-old argument in psychology and other sciences about which is more important to an organism's development: nature or nurture. In simple terms, nature means genetics: if an organism has genes more suited to doing a thing, that organism will excel at doing that thing. Nurture, on the other hand, is the organism's environment, which includes nutrition and other factors surrounding the organism as it matures. In the contemporary sciences, the debate of nature versus nurture is partially solved through the use of conceptualizations like range of reaction—the topic of this lesson.

Range of Reaction

Range of reaction (or reaction range) is a concept in psychology, genetics, and related fields that the expressed characteristics (or phenotype) of an organism depend both on genetic characteristics (or genotype) and the environment. It's the current understanding that characteristics like intelligence depend upon both genetics and the environment to fully shape them in an individual. The function of genes in this process—according to reaction range—is to set hard limits to the range of certain characteristics, determining how well an organism can excel in different circumstances. The function of the environment is to set the way characteristics express themselves in a particular individual. While this is mainstream science, it also is hotly contested among some scientists who would rather focus on the normal ways phenotypes are expressed in populations and discard the notion that genes have limits.


Let's consider the idea of intelligence. Using the concept of range of reaction, a scientist would say that intelligence is determined by genes but manifests according to what the environment demands. In other words, if a child has the potential to be a genius, that potential must also be nurtured through education, nutrition, and a safe environment. Lacking any of these makes it difficult for the brain to develop properly, resulting in the child not exercising his or her intellectual potential.

Athletic ability is another area that the concept of range reaction can be applied to. A child with average genes can have above average performance with constant practice, exercise, and excellent nutrition. Think of Olympic and professional athletes for a moment. Certainly, some professional athletes have talents and abilities that are a result of good genetic potential, but most would attribute their success as athletes to hard work. Turn the earlier question around and take a person with excellent athletic ability and put them in an environment where they never work out. Despite the person having good genes, there is no reason for that potential to be expressed.

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