Anthropology, biology, economics, history, psychology and sociology each include a disciplinary focus on the origins and current consequences of individual and group behavior and social outcomes. However, among disciplines — and even within disciplines — there is disagreement about the relative importance of genes, natural environment, individual rational choice and sociocultural construction on individual and group behavior, cultures and social institutions.
Historical views have ranged from strong biopsychological determinism, to environmental determinism and individual rational choice, to strong sociocultural determinism. Views on the origins and current functions of behavior, culture and society can and often do affect social policy; extreme views have provided the intellectual rationale for eugenics, racism, sexism, imperialism, laissez-faire capitalism, and collectivization and cultural revolution. On a positive note, interdisciplinary progress in understanding the origins and functions of human behavior, cultures and societies has contributed to progressive reforms in the areas of mental health, public health, laws and criminal justice, education, intercultural understanding, and programs to provide economic and social opportunity for the underprivileged.
Views on questions of human nature have tended to become polarized between the biological (biology, evolutionary psychology, biological anthropology) and the social science (social psychology, cultural anthropology, history, sociology) poles. This dialectical relationship between the social and biological sciences, and the corresponding dialogue between both, forces both sides in this rich debate to refine their positions and exposes students to a deeper understanding of the foundations of the respective disciplines and their impact on the world.