Category: Psychology

Blank Slate Theory

There are various theories in psychology, which embrace different sides of a person’s mind and understand it in their own ways. One of such theories is the blank slate theory, also known as tabula rasa. It states that individuals get born with no built-in brain content and that the information, which makes up their knowledge and ideas, comes only from perception and experience during their lives and social interaction. Therefore, in the nurture versus nature debate, which discusses the influence of heredity and environment on an individual (Nevid, 2007), blank slate theory takes the “nurture” side. It connects emotional and social behavior and intelligence connected with environment.

Aristotle’s Works

The beginnings of the blank slate theory can be found in Aristotle’s works. Later, in the 11th century, Ibn Sina, a Persian philosopher, developed a theory known as tabula rasa. However, it was popularized only in the 17th century. Back then, in 1689, John Locke, a British philosopher and academic, wrote a book called An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and stated his thoughts about it without giving an exact name to the theory. In this book, he explained that each person starts as a ‘blank slate’ and forms his or her mind through personal experience. Combining simple ideas, it becomes possible to create a more complex human knowledge base (Nevid, 2007). Thus, the modern idea of this theory is mostly connected with John Locke’s book.

According to the blank slate theory, each individual is free to define the content of his/her character and to be the author of his/her own soul and identity. In the meantime, such factors as knowledge, mind, and personality totally depend on one’s upbringing and environment (Nevid, 2007). In addition, there are three separate ways of building complex ideas.

  • First of all, it is by combining simple ideas.
  • Secondly, it is through evaluating the relation of these ideas.
  • The third way is to abstract general ideas from certain details.

These functions are supported by human memory, which stores this information for later use.

Steven Pinker

However, some scholars argue against this theory. One of them is Steven Pinker, a modern psychologist, who wrote a book called The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. In this book, he claims that human nature is first of all determined by genetics. His main idea is to prove that experience cannot change the basic structure and functioning of the human brain. Let us take a closer look at this book.

Pinker claims that the blank slate theory is actually inconsistent with negative factors in the society and creates degradation and servitude. Moreover, according to Pinker, if everyone was equal in abilities at birth, it would not be likely that everyone only needed to be given equal opportunities. For example, there are people with less innate abilities. In this case, providing support to them can be considered in a sense of redistribution to those with less innate abilities (Pinker, 2002).

In addition, Pinker gives examples of the way the blank slate theory can do harm. First of all, it is reflected in the tendency to create totalitarian control regimes. Because some people may think that if the environment forms the mind, then ruthless control is able to create perfect minds. Furthermore, parents become the ones to blame in case their child performs badly at school or in communication with others, because they are thought to raise him/her in a wrong way. Moreover, it can even result in persecution of successful individuals who are assumed to have gained their status in an unfair way (Pinker, 2002).

Thus, Pinker admits it to be a mistake to assume that the blank slate theory is correct, because it makes people think that values depend on fortune. This is mostly because it denies human nature and exaggerates the effects of environment (Pinker, 2002).


Arguments for and against the blank slate theory have existed for many centuries. Both sides present valid and important arguments protecting their points of view. Each of them is logical to a certain extent. There is still no definite opinion on whether the blank slate theory is true or not, and it still inspires debate and further study.

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