Genetics vs Environment…new findings on IQ

Thanks to Dr. Kevin McGrew at IQ corner, I’ve come across a very interesting book review in the New York Times by Jim Holt, regarding a book on genetics vs. environmental influences on IQ written by Professor Richard E. Nisbett, a prominent cognitive psychologist who teaches at the University of Michigan and wrote a book I want to get my hands on.

In INTELLIGENCE AND HOW TO GET IT: Why Schools and Culture Count By Richard E. Nisbett, Jim Holt explains that the Professor Nesbitt

stresses the importance of nonhereditary factors in determining I.Q. So fascinating is this evidence — drawn from neuroscience and genetics, as well as from studies of educational interventions and parenting styles,— that the author’s slightly academic prose style can be forgiven.

and he goes on to say

…Nisbett bridles at the hereditarian claim that I.Q. is 75 to 85 percent heritable; the real figure, he thinks, is less than 50 percent. Estimates come from comparing the I.Q.’s of blood relatives — identical twins, fraternal twins, siblings — growing up in different adoptive families. But there is a snare here. As Nisbett observes, “adoptive families, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are all alike.” Not only are they more affluent than average, they also tend to give children lots of cognitive stimulation. Thus data from them yield erroneously high estimates of I.Q. heritability. (Think: if we all grew up in exactly the same environment, I.Q. differences would appear to be 100 percent genetic.) This underscores an important point: there is no fixed value for heritability. The notion makes sense only relative to a population. Heritability of I.Q. is higher for upper-class families than for lower-class families, because lower-class families provide a wider range of cognitive environments, from terrible to pretty good.

Jim Holt makes the observation that:

Even if I.Q. inequality is inevitable, it may eventually become irrelevant. Over the last century, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, I.Q. scores around the world have been rising by three points a decade. Some of this rise, Nisbett argues, represents a real gain in intelligence. But beyond a certain threshold — an I.Q. of 115, say — there is no correlation between intelligence and creativity or genius. As more of us are propelled above this threshold — and, if Nisbett is right, nearly all of us can be — the role of intelligence in determining success will come to be infinitesimal by comparison with such “moral” traits as conscientiousness and perseverance. Then we can start arguing about whether those are genetic.

All this to say, I’ve known for a while that all that I do with the kids at home (the focus on math and science and learning in general, even though they go to public school) isn’t worthless, but this just proves it. I enjoy teaching my kids new things. I have fun teaching them, and they really enjoy learning new things (and it keeps them thinking even outside of school hours). I’m not deliberately trying to boost their IQ, but instead instill a love of learning, but if it happens to increase their intelligence, then I think that is a good bonus.

I do think other non-academic, play-based experiences are important for developing critical skills like self-regulation and executive function, which I think are very fundamental in building skills like perseverance and conscientiousness. I commented on Make Believe Play in my other blog about how traditional make-believe and creative play promotes these types of skills.

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2 Responses to Genetics vs Environment…new findings on IQ

  1. Mariah says:

    I read this review in the New York Times as well and was very intrigued. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Mariah – I’ve been very interested in what researchers find out about what is important about development. It’s about trying to find out why exactly am I trying to do by providing a strong foundation for learning in my home for my girls. It’s great to know that as parents and teachers, what we do with the children does in fact influence there abilities. It’s not just innate, but the input that one receives (academically and teaching social responsibility and self-discipline) that can impact one’s development in a positive way.

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