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Which Has More of an Influence on Intelligence: Nature or Nurture?

written by: Sonal Panse•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 7/22/2010

Are you a product of your genes or your environment? What determines your intellect? Find out more about this issue to make your own decision.

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    The Debate

    The nature versus nurture debate ponders over the question whether it is our genes that determine who we are and the qualities we possess, or if it is the environment in which we are raised that shapes our personality. Certain traits such as eye-color and hair-color are certainly influenced by genetics, but what about intelligence, personality type, sexual orientation and so on? Are these determined by our genes too? Supporters of the nature hypothesis believe that hereditary factors matter more than environment, while supporters of the nurture hypothesis consider the environmental influence paramount. In actuality, both these factors are important and interlinked, and it is practically impossible to conclude which is more necessary than the other.

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    Francis Galton and Eugenics

    The British scientist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, coined the term 'nature versus nurture'. He became interested in the matter of heredity after reading Darwin's work 'The Origin of Species', and he wrote a book 'Hereditary Genius: Its laws and Consequences' in 1869. He observed that many clever and talented people seemed to produce equally or more gifted offspring, and he carried out twin studies to determine how people with the same genes might develop in intelligence when raised in the same environment or in different environments. He also studied intelligence levels between people of different races. His research led him to conclude that heredity or nature made more of a difference than environment or nurture, and that intelligence had to be inbred, it couldn't be trained. He then proposed that the arrangement of judicious marriages between gifted individuals would, over the course of several generations, lead to an enhancement in racial qualities on the mental and physical fronts. This idea became known as eugenics, and it has generated a lot of controversy due to its discriminatory nature; it was used by the Nazis and endorsed by the apartheid policies.

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    Complex Mix

    Since the 1960s, the idea of nurture has gained an upper hand. Researchers proposed that while genetics did matter, it was the environment that determined whether or not a person was able to reach his or her full potential. This has been seen in studies of neglected infants and of feral children (children who were raised by wild animals). If children do not get care and attention in their early, formative years, whatever innate intelligence they have never gets a chance to develop properly and they remain developmentally backward. On the other hand, in a supportive background, a child will be encouraged to do well and will have more opportunities in which to succeed. It seems that the right environment triggers off the expression of genes that can influence the development of particular traits. However, environment on its own, to give an example, won't make anyone a mathematical genius if they don't already have an innate ability for mathematics. And if environment were the only criteria, many successful people from disadvantaged backgrounds wouldn't have made it good. From this, it seems it may be a mistake to look at the matter as a nature versus nurture and intelligence issue; intelligence and personality traits are, it is clear, a complex mix of both genetics and environment.

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    References

    Nature vs Nurture in Intelligence - http://wilderdom.com/personality/L4-1IntelligenceNatureVsNurture.html

    Nature versus Nurture - http://scienceaid.co.uk/psychology/approaches/naturenurture.html






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