The various excerpts that follow contain research findings and journalistic commentary that inform the issues discussed occasionally among a small group of humanists in the Bay Area. We are interested in how man-made places reveal the ways that varying values and norms stemming from changing environmental conditions interact with ( i.e., shape or are shaped by) our genetic heritage.
Nature vs. Nurture
Why Rich Parents Don't Matter
by Jonah Lehrer Wall Street Journal
Janurary 22, 2011
How much do the decisions of parents matter? Most parents believe that even the most mundane acts of parenting—from their choice of day care to their policy on videogames—can profoundly influence the success of their children. Kids are like wet clay, in this view, and we are the sculptors.
As wealth increases, adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children.
Yet in tests measuring many traits, from intelligence to self-control, the power of the home environment pales in comparison to the power of genes and peer groups. We may think we're sculptors, but the clay is mostly set.
A new paper suggests that both metaphors can be true. Which one is relevant depends, it turns out, on the economic status of families.
For a paper in Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia looked at 750 pairs of American twins who were given a test of mental ability at the age of 10 months and then again at the age of 2. By studying the performance of identical versus fraternal twins, the scientists could tease out the relative importance of factors such as genetics and the home environment. Because the infants came from households across the socioeconomic spectrum, it also was possible to see how wealth influenced test scores.
When it came to the mental ability of 10-month-olds, the home environment was the key variable, across every socioeconomic class. But results for the 2-year-olds were dramatically different. In children from poorer households, the choices of parents still mattered. In fact, the researchers estimated that the home environment accounted for approximately 80% of the individual variance in mental ability among poor 2-year-olds. The effect of genetics was negligible.
The opposite pattern appeared in 2-year-olds from wealthy households. For these kids, genetics primarily determined performance, accounting for nearly 50% of all variation in mental ability. (The scientists made this conclusion based on the fact that identical twins performed much more similarly than fraternal twins.) The home environment was a distant second. For parents, the correlation appears to be clear: As wealth increases, the choices of adults play a much smaller role in determining the mental ability of their children.
Children from wealthy households get all the advantages that money can buy, from music lessons to SAT tutors. Although parents might fret over the details of such advantages—is it better to play the piano or the violin?—these details are mostly insignificant, subject to the law of diminishing returns. As the science blogger Razib Kahn notes, "When you remove the environmental variance, the genetic variance remains."
These results capture the stunning developmental inequalities that set in almost immediately, so that even the mental ability of 2-year-olds can be profoundly affected by the socio-economic status of their parents. As a result, their genetic potential is held back.
Though this latest study doesn't speculate about the causes of these class differences, previous research has focused on a panoply of factors, such as the variety of words directed toward the child (more variety leads to higher test scores), the number of books in the home and even the ratio of encouraging remarks to discouraging warnings. By the age of 3, children from wealthier households hear, on average, about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. The ratio is reversed in households on welfare.
Such statistics have led many researchers to highlight the importance of improving the early-childhood environments of poor children. Economists such as James Heckman, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago, have long advocated for increased investments in preschool education, but this latest study suggests that interventions need to begin even earlier. One possible model is the "Baby College" administered by the Harlem Children's Zone, which seeks to equip brand-new parents with better parenting skills.
Eliminating such inequalities in the early years of life would simply create a new kind of inequality, driven by genetics. But such a world would at least let more children come closer to their mental potential, unconstrained by the mistakes or impoverishment of their parents. The greatest luxury we can give our children, it turns out, is the luxury of being the type of parent that doesn't matter at all.
Rather than try to tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. , we concentrate on place based trends and academic research that more directly reflect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections. We seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties and intellectual enjoyment. We deal with those grassroots issues not to influence public policy or resolve differences but to gain an understanding of the way of the world-- in order to sort out the chaos and thereby increase our pleasure as identified by Epicurus We start from the premise that changing the body politic at the state and national level is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism. “I propose that we lea…
Excerpted from: Solving The African IQ Conundrum : "Winning Personality" Masks Low Scores By J. Philippe Rushton VDare August 12, 2004
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.
Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).
Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of …
Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success? By ALISON GOPNIK July 16, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET 10 COMMENTS Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression? The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?