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Nurture at Least as Important as Nature
September 10, 2010 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Spiegel has an interesting article on the ol' Nature Vs. Nuture battle. They focus on 2 recent studies. One, looks at socioeconmic status and IQ, and concludes: "A person's intelligence can only truly blossom if the environment gives the brain what it desires." That is, IQ of the poorest in the study appeared to be almost exclusively determined by their socioeconomic status. In the meantime psychologists, neuroscientists, and geneticists have developed a very different perspective. They now believe that the skill we term "intelligence" is not in the least fixed, but is actually remarkably variable. "The low IQs expected for children born to lower-class parents can be greatly increased if their environment is sufficiently rich cognitively,"
posted by Blake (25 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
am I being snotty when I note that this seems hardly a major insight that we have not been aware of for some time now? Or has the paper run out of things to print?
posted by Postroad at 9:42 AM on September 10, 2010


See also this article, which focuses more on behavioral differences, but comes to similar conclusions about cognitive development in poor children.
posted by invitapriore at 9:57 AM on September 10, 2010


am I being snotty when I note that this seems hardly a major insight that we have not been aware of for some time now?

Probably.

(a) My understanding is that in science, sometimes you design studies to test conventional wisdom, or even repeat studies to see if they come out the same, and that this is actually considered one of its strengths rather than a weakness.

(b) FTA: "Scientists typically use twins to gauge the influence of our genes on the one hand and the environment on the other. However Turkheimer noticed that such studies rarely involve twins from broken homes ... Turkheimer and his colleagues are the first scientists to have plugged this gap. Their three studies conducted in the United States on this issue have now compared the intelligence of hundreds of twins from more privileged backgrounds with those from more difficult environments."
posted by namespan at 10:06 AM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


the ol' Nature Vs. Nuture battle

ACK! I'm choking on my own rage here!

There's no battle. For nearly every question relating to Nature vs. Nurture, the answer is "both genes and environment interact to produce the phenotype". This is the answer so often that, for any particular question, I consider the burden of proof to be on anyone who claims otherwise.
posted by Jpfed at 10:11 AM on September 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


"The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame" That's interesting. I wonder if also rich kids from bad (stressful) homes would show the same results. (This from invitapriore's link)
posted by Blake at 10:15 AM on September 10, 2010


There's no battle. For nearly every question relating to Nature vs. Nurture, the answer is "both genes and environment interact to produce the phenotype". This is the answer so often that, for any particular question, I consider the burden of proof to be on anyone who claims otherwise.

Wish I could favorite this more.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2010


Bad framing by the article, more than it is a problem with the study. It's always interesting to know more about exactly how nature and nurture interact to produce people.
posted by empath at 10:28 AM on September 10, 2010


You know who else wrote German essays about the intangible nature of intelligence? (Hint: He was born in Austria)
posted by crapmatic at 11:09 AM on September 10, 2010


My understanding is that in science, sometimes you design studies to test conventional wisdom, or even repeat studies to see if they come out the same, and that this is actually considered one of its strengths rather than a weakness.

Fair enough, but does confirmation of the blatantly obvious really warrant a "studies show" article in Der Spiegel?

(More like Duh Spiegel, amirite?)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:13 AM on September 10, 2010


but does confirmation of the blatantly obvious really warrant a "studies show" article in Der Spiegel?

Sure. Often enough the blatantly obvious has turned out to be blatantly incorrect or at least blatantly misunderstood.

Also, to pronounce "Der" in Der Spiegel you could use the word bear and swap out the b for a d.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:28 AM on September 10, 2010


This article is to be read in the light of a recent "debate"/ campaign by parts of German media bashing muslim immigrants as culturally and/or genetically less intelligent than germans and destroying Germany through immigration and higher birth rates. I think if you google Sarrazin you may find some sources, but the whole thing makes me too sick and angry to search through them now to find english articles.
Maybe I'll draft an fpp about that whole mess later, but I doubt that I'll be able to refrain from editorializing...
posted by ts;dr at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think it hurts to repeat the idea in popular media, even if it's old news to scientists. It seems like constant repetition of new concepts is how they become general facts (for better or for worse) that inform public opinion and eventually influence policy. I'd certainly like to see this become well-known enough to finally end the belief that the naturally smart and/or talented will flourish and succeed without any outside help.
posted by missix at 11:49 AM on September 10, 2010


Considering the extent to which "twin studies" have been used to bolster belief in the genetic component's determining role in intelligence, this is a pretty solid article, although it may seem like a "no duh" insight to many. The idea that most of these studies have been done with members of roughly the same socio-economic group is one I hadn't thought of before.

It isn't news, of course, that different socio-economic groups (can I use the word "classes" here even though Americans like to pretend we don't separate ourselves like the English or the Hindus?) expose their children to different degrees of information. Can I make the observation that members of the professional class talk to their babies in, say, the supermarket much more than do members of the lower class without sounding elitist? No, I didn't think so, but that is exactly what the Spiegel article says. So what happens to these intellectually impoverished kids when they get to high school? We segregate them into suburban schools and urban schools and blame the schools for not doing more. (Potential thread derail, sorry, I just read an article on school reform.)
posted by kozad at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2010


Fair enough, but does confirmation of the blatantly obvious really warrant a "studies show" article in Der Spiegel?

But the study succeeds in providing a measure of the extent to which cognitive development is affected by poverty, which isn't as obvious. "Poor children aren't as smart because they're poor" isn't really an actionable statement of fact because the terms are loosely defined and, probably more importantly, there's no basis for comparison if we try to implement programs to rectify that imbalance.

I don't think this is really a bad or poorly framed article at all, but nonetheless I think the reason why this type of journalism inspires the "duh" response is that it reports on the general thrust of the study's conclusions, rather than delving into the actual, quantifiable results. It makes sense that it should be that way, but it's kind of frustrating when readers interpret the situation as the scientists undertaking a study just so that when they're done, they can say "it turns out plants are green after all!" Well, yeah, but as it turns out what they're actually concerned with is the specific wavelength of the light reflected by the plant, because of e.g. how its color affects energy absorption.
posted by invitapriore at 12:07 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Measuring "intelligence" seems fraught with difficulty. I don't know much about how they measure it (but this article didn't really explain it either.), but it seems like written and oral memory tests. But memory surely doesn't equate exactly with "intelligence," does it?

Shouldn't the conclusion be that environmental and genetic factors both affect students' abilities to perform well on structured tests?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:09 PM on September 10, 2010


this seems hardly a major insight that we have not been aware of for some time now?

Yes, but it never hurts to repeat it, given how many thing that poor kids are inherently stupid, because they come from parents who are inherently stupid, because they must be otherwise they wouldn't be poor.
posted by davejay at 12:39 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Seeds that are scattered on infertile soil won't ever grow into large plants."

What a great way to put it.
posted by davejay at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2010


how many THINK. argh
posted by davejay at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2010


Measuring "intelligence" seems fraught with difficulty. I don't know much about how they measure it (but this article didn't really explain it either.), but it seems like written and oral memory tests. But memory surely doesn't equate exactly with "intelligence," does it?

I'm also not an expert but I think memory tasks are just one component of intelligence tests; they include things like spatial reasoning and pattern recognition, which don't just measure memorization ability.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:04 PM on September 10, 2010


Yeah ts;dr has the crucial angle, pretty much everything in Germany right now is about this idiot named Thilo Sarrazin who had a good job until he messed himself up with his mouth. He wrote some book, pretty much the German Bell Curve, talking about how everyone except for people who look like him are genetically stupid. Pretty much the past month has been nothing but Thilo Sarrazin and "Are immigrants stupid? Are we allowed to ask this question? News at 11!" I think the past two issues of Der Spiegel have been just exclusively about racial genetics and Sarrazin.
posted by creasy boy at 2:24 PM on September 10, 2010


The important point people always seem to miss when discussing the ill-effects of poverty is, poverty is relative:
In fact, in more unequal societies, these problems aren't higher by ten or twenty percent. There are perhaps eight times the number of teenage births per capita, ten times the homicide rate, three times the rate of mental illness. Huge differences. If social mobility were a perfect sorting system and everyone was sorted by ability, that wouldn't make the number of problems in the society greater. It wouldn't change the overall IQ of the population; it would just change the social distribution of IQ. We know from the findings that it's the status divisions themselves that create the problems. We're not making a great leap to say that this is causal. We, I think, show that it's almost impossible to find any other consistent explanation.

....

If you grow up in an unequal society, your actual experience of human relationships is different. Your idea of human nature changes. If you grow up in a consumerist society, you think of human beings as self-interested. In fact, consumerism is so powerful because we're so highly social. It's not that we actually have an overwhelming desire to accumulate property, it's that we're concerned with how we're seen all the time. So actually, we're misunderstanding consumerism. It's not material self-interest, it's that we're so sensitive. We experience ourselves through each other's eyes—and that's the reason for the labels and the clothes and the cars.
Liberals would do well to start changing the narrative on this topic - that poverty itself is inherently damaging to society and individuals, and the only solution is a more equal society. We can debate how to get to that society, but if any politician wants to argue that our current level of income and social equality is just a-OK, let them make that argument in front of voters. I don't think even your average Joe Tea Party thinks it's fair what CEOs make while he or his cousin get part-time hours at Walmart
posted by crayz at 5:15 PM on September 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


It may depend on the measure of intelligence used in the study.

A cultural-capital variable measure (like an old-style Stanford-Binet) might give different results as opposed to a static measure (Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices).
posted by kid A at 10:59 PM on September 10, 2010


It's not material self-interest, it's that we're so sensitive. We experience ourselves through each other's eyes—and that's the reason for the labels and the clothes and the cars.

You know, that's so true. I eschew material goods for material goods' sake, and I tend to drive small economy cars, but to be fair the social circle I grew up in was made up mostly of that kind of person. When I think honestly about what kind of car I want, I'd probably go buy one of the new V6 Mustangs, except that I care about how my peers see me, and in my circle that's the car of a tool (YCMV.)
posted by davejay at 9:48 PM on September 11, 2010


Man, fuck that Sarrazin dude.
posted by serazin at 12:13 AM on September 13, 2010


It's not that we actually have an overwhelming desire to accumulate property, it's that we're concerned with how we're seen all the time. So actually, we're misunderstanding consumerism. It's not material self-interest, it's that we're so sensitive. We experience ourselves through each other's eyes—and that's the reason for the labels and the clothes and the cars.

Mimetic desire.

I don't think even your average Joe Tea Party thinks it's fair what CEOs make while he or his cousin get part-time hours at Walmart

Actually, the problem is that the average Joe Tea Party type thinks exactly that. I agree that it's the most important issue, but selling income equality is a losing proposition today in America.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:19 PM on September 13, 2010


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