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.
Do parents really matter? Everything we thought we knew about how personality is formed is wrong
Brian Boutwell The Spectator June 14, 2017 https://life.spectator.co.uk/2017/06/do-parents-really-matter/
Parenting does not have a large impact on how children turn out. An incendiary claim, to be sure, but if you can bear with me until the close of this article I think I might be able to persuade you — or at the very least chip away at your certainty about parental influence.
First, what if later today the phone were to ring and the voice at the other end informed you that you have an identical twin. You would have lived your entire life up to that point not realising that you had a clone. The bearer of this news says arrangements have been made to reunite you with your long-lost sibling. In something of a daze, you assent, realising as you hang up that you’ve just agreed to meet a perfect stranger.
There was a time when separating identical twins at birth, while infrequent, did happen thanks to the harsh nature of adoption systems. One of the people who helped reunite many of them was the great psychologist Thomas Bouchard. I first read about Professor Bouchard’s work, wonderfully described by the psychologist Nancy Segal, when I was a graduate student. I still think about it often. What would it be like to live a large chunk of my life not knowing that I had a twin, and then meet him as an adult? Would our conversations ever go beyond polite small talk about the weather, sport or current events?
I’m sure similar thoughts went through the minds of the people in Bouchard’s study, and yet person after person realised — happily, I suspect — that they had a lot in common with the image of themselves sitting across the table. Their characters were often remarkably in step, as were their intellects, their behaviours, even their hobbies and eccentricities. The similarities often ran deep, cutting to the bone of their beliefs and their morality.
Our intuition sometimes seems to testify against the work of Bouchard and his team. The emphasis on nurture dictates that identical twins, reared apart and reunited later in life, should not be all that similar. And yet they are. Contrastingly, adopted children who share no distinguishing DNA with one another but are raised together should be quite similar. Yet they are not, and this poses some problems for traditional ideas about how parents shape children.
It’s not just Bouchard’s work that suggests parents have less influence than we think. Decades of research into behavioural genetics — twin studies, family studies and the adoption and identical-twin stories I have already mentioned — all point in the same direction. The shared environment, the experiences that create similarities between siblings raised together — the part of the environment that most often captures parenting influences — are all secondary when it comes to personality, behaviour or intelligence. What’s more, my own work as a criminologist, and that of my colleagues, has revealed the same pattern of findings when applied to violence, antisocial behaviour and crime.
This apparent puzzle (which is something of a scientific heresy) becomes clearer if we accept that genetic factors play an important role in making us who we are. Yes, the environment matters, but not just the environment that the child experiences in the home. The environment in this sense is far more nebulous and hard to nail down — behavioural geneticists call it the ‘non-shared’ environment and it includes anything that causes two siblings to be different from each other. And I really mean anything. The psychologist Steven Pinker puts it this way: ‘A cosmic ray mutates a stretch of DNA, a neurotransmitter zigs instead of zags, the growth cone of an axon goes left instead of right, and one identical twin’s brain might gel into a slightly different configuration from the other’s.’ In other words, we should not presume that random chance plays a vanishingly small role in making us the people that we are today.
Beyond the randomness of life, we already have a window on to what parts of culture children are swayed by. Both Pinker and the psychologist Judith Rich Harris remind us that the children of immigrants adopt and speak with the accent and language of their peers. The movies people watch, the music we listen to, and much else that we’d put under the general heading of ‘culture’ are deeply affected by our peers. What else would you expect, really? Wanting and needing to fit in is not just a passing phase of childhood. To some extent, it’s essential for living.
So ‘the environment’ does play a role in shaping who we are, but it’s not ‘the environment’ in merely the conventional sense of how your folks parent you and your siblings.
All of this is indicative of something deeper — an aspect which is less arcane and more relevant to daily life. A great many pundits, advice givers, and professional psychologists have spent decades being wrong about why people turn out the way they do.
A child is not a blank canvas. How many books have been written about the way people should and should not parent their children? How many approaches have been suggested by experts who are not really in a position to know? Yes, they may hold advanced degrees, but the truth is that the advice they offer tends to ignore the genetic influences that we now know to be at work. The studies that identify those influences often find that parenting — unless it is actually malign — has very little impact on how children turn out. The huge ‘parenting advice’ industry is largely bunkum.
What does this mean for you if you’re a parent wanting to know how to raise a happy, well-adjusted child? I generally loathe parenting advice columns, so that is not what is on offer here. I can sympathise with the idea that having a child brings with it a host of responsibilities that are exciting but also terrifying.
At this point, I would turn again to the psychologist Judith Rich Harris, who authored the definitive book on this subject. Harris writes: ‘We may not hold their tomorrows in our hands but we surely hold their todays, and we have the power to make their todays very miserable.’
Pinker, meanwhile, makes the point that it should be enough for us to remember that our children are human beings, worthy of the same ethical treatment we give to our friends, other relatives, and even to strangers. So protect your children, provide for them, be good to them, and make memories with them. Apart from that, don’t expect to have very much say in how they turn out.
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?