Nature-Nurture Studies

Nature-nurture studies utilized adoption data to answer basic scientific questions about how and why human beings turn out as they do and where individual differences originate.

Because non-relative adoptions separated parental genes (nature) from family environment (nurture), adoption amounted to the sort of scientific experiment that could not otherwise be ethically conducted with human beings. Nature-nurture studies were designed by developmental psychologists and other researchers in the human sciences to reveal the relative power of heredity and home in intellectual and psychological development. In this sense, nature-nurture studies are different than field studies and outcome studies, which were conducted mainly by social work researchers interested in using empirical data to refine future adoption practice and policy. But like these other kinds of adoption studies, nature-nurture science reinforced the belief that producing knowledge and protecting children were mutually reinforcing.

Researchers whose initial interest in adoption was abstract and theoretical often found themselves confronting very practical questions from parents and professionals. Did nature-nurture science support or contradict the placement of newborns and infants in adoptive homes? Should children with shameful or unknown natal backgrounds be placed for adoption? What did nature-nurture studies suggest about matching children and adults?


Chronological List of Nature-Nurture Studies


Margaret Evertson Cobb, “The Mentality of Dependent Children,” Journal of Delinquency 7 (May 1922):132-140.


Barbara Stoddard Burks, “Foster Parent-Foster Child Comparisons as Evidence Upon The Nature-Nurture Problem,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 13, no. 12 (December 15, 1927):846-848.


Barbara Stoddard Burks, “The Relative Influence of Nature and Nurture Upon Mental Development; A Comparative Study of Foster Parent-Foster child Resemblance and True Parent-True Child Resemblance,” 27th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, part 1 (1928):219-316.


Frank Nugent Freeman et. al., “The Influence of Environment on the Intelligence, School Achievement, and Conduct of Foster Children,” 27th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, part 1 (1928):103-217.


Frank N. Freeman, “An Investigation of the Intelligence of Foster Children,” Social Service Review 3 (1929):30-34.


Alice Leahy, “A Study of Certain Selective Factors Influencing Prediction of the Mental Status of Adoptive Children, or Adopted Children in Nature-Nurture Research,” Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology 41 (December 1932):294-329.


Dorothy K. Hallowell, “Stability of Mental Test Ratings for Preschool Children,” Pedagogical Seminary and Journal of Genetic Psychology 40 (1932):406-420.


Alice Leahy, “Some Characteristics of Adoptive Parents,” American Journal of Sociology 38 (January 1933):548-563.


Donah B. Lithauer and Otto Klineberg, “A Study of the Variation in IQ of a Group of Dependent Children in Institution and Foster Home,” Journal of Genetic Psychology 42, no. 1 (March 1933):236-242.


Alice M. Leahy, “Nature-Nurture and Intelligence,” Genetic Psychology Monographs 17, no. 4 (August 1935):235-308.


Alice M. Leahy, “A Study of Adopted Children as a Method of Investigating Nature-Nurture,” Journal of the American Statistical Association 30 (March 1935):281-287.


Harold M. Skeels, “The Relation of the Foster Home Environment to the Mental Development of Children Placed in Infancy,” Child Development 7, no. 1 (March 1936):1-5.


Emmett L. Schott, “IQ Changes in Foster Home Children,” Journal of Applied Psychology 21 (1937):107-112.


Alice Leahy Shea, “Family Background and the Placement of Illegitimate Children,” American Journal of Sociology 93, no. 1 (July 1937):103-104.


Donald Snygg, “The Relation Between Intelligence of Mothers and Their Children Living in Foster Homes,” Journal of Genetic Psychology 52 (1938):401-406.


Marie Skodak, “The Mental Development of Adopted Children Whose True Mothers are Feeble-Minded,” Child Development 9, no. 3 (September 1938): 303-308.


Harold M. Skeels, “Mental Development of Children in Foster Homes,” Journal of Consulting Psychology 2, no. 2 (March-April 1939):33-43.


Harold M. Skeels and Harold B. Dye, “A Study of the Effects of Differential Stimulation on Mentally Retarded Children,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Association on Mental Deficiency 44 (1939):114-136.


Marie Skodak, “Children in Foster Homes: A Study of Mental Development,” Studies in Child Welfare 16, no. 1 (1939):1-156.


Anne Roe and Barbara Burks, “Adult Adjustment of Foster Children of Alcoholic and Psychotic Parentage and the Influence of the Foster Home,” Memoirs of the Section on Alcohol Studies, Yale University, No. 3, Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (New Haven, 1945).


Harold M. Skeels and Irene Harms, “Children With Inferior Social Histories: Their Mental Development in Adoptive Homes,” Journal of Genetic Psychology 72 (June 1948):283-294.


Marie Skodak and Harold M. Skeels, “A Final Follow-Up Study of One Hundred Adopted Children,” Journal of Genetic Psychology 75 (September 1949):85-125.


Harold M. Skeels, “Effects of Adoption on Children from Institutions,” Children (January-February 1965):33-34.


Harold M. Skeels, “Adult Status of Children With Contrasting Early Life Experiences: A Follow-Up Study,” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 31, no. 3 (1966), 1-65.


Seymour S. Kety et al, “The Types and Prevalence of Mental Illness in the Biological and Adoptive Families of Adopted Schizophrenics,” Journal of Psychiatric Research 6 suppl. 1 (November 1968):345-362.


Leon J. Kamin, “Studies of Adopted Children,” in The Science and Politics of I.Q. (Potomac, MD: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1974), 111-134


Leon Kamin, “Studies of Adopted Children,” in The Intelligence Controversy: H.J. Eysenck Versus Leon Kamin (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1981), 114-125.


Robert Plomin and John C. DeFries, Origins of Individual Differences in Infancy: The Colorado Adoption Project (Orlando: Academic Press, 1985).


Seymour S. Kety and Loring J. Ingraham, “Genetic Transmission and Improved Diagnosis of Schizophrenia From Pedigrees of Adoptees,” Journal of Psychiatric Research 26, no. 4 (1992):247-255.


Seymour Kety et al., “Mental Illness in the Biological and Adoptive Relatives of Schizophrenic Adoptees,” Archives of General Psychiatry 51 (June 1994):442-455.


David Howe, Patterns of Adoption: Nature, Nurture and Psychosocial Development (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).



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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
Department of History, University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403-1288
(541) 346-3699
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