Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
Both your genes and your environment combine to influence and shape your intelligence. But that's only half the truth. The other half is that your intelligence influences and shapes your environment.
"Nature or Nurture" used to be a highly debated subject. Supporters of either side could argue about it till the cows come home. Now, almost everybody agrees that nature and nurture both play an important part in how smart a child grows to be. But, beyond this point, things begin to get complicated. Experts just can't make up their minds with regard to the relative importance of genes and environment in determining our level of intelligence.
Intelligence Quotient (I..Q), a measurement of intelligence, have been going higher with each successive generation. Look at the following facts:
In Britain, the average I.Q. has risen by 27 points since 1942.
in Argentina, the average I.Q has risen by 22 points since 1964. In just 35 years, today's "average" Argentine child is as smart as was a "bright" child of yesterday.
In the USA, there is an increase of 24 points since 1918. Oops! You may feel bad that we are not getting smarter as fast as they are. Take heart. In 1932, the average I.Q. in the USA was 100. Today, on the same school, the average is 112.
Could this worldwide increase in I.Q. be explained by improvement in the environment? After all, we have more radios, TVs, books, and other devices, which offer faster and more complete information to accelerate our learning. But, all experts don't think that change in the environment can explain the rise in intelligence levels.
Studies based on twins indicate that genes may account for 75% of the I.Q differences between individuals. But, the theory of genes has some big holes in it. For instance, consider the 22 points increase in Argentina in just 35 years or so. Genes don't change that much in one or two generations, so genetic factors could not account for an increase of this magnitude in that period of time.
Psychologists James Flynn and Charles Dickens have some answers. They call it the "Flynn Effect." They say that I.Q. is changed both by genes and environment, but a person's environment is matched to his or her I.Q. In other words, how good an environment you live in may depend on your parents' I.Q.
Take for example child "Johnny." Johnny's parents have high I.Qs. As a result, they are well educated, hold intellectually challenging jobs and have an income high enough to afford desirable amenities. As a result, Johnny is exposed to an intellectually stimulating environment, including books, toys, videos and other aids, which would speed up the growth of his brain and expand the breadth and scope of his knowledge and experience.
Johnny sees adults around him, who read, write and engage in other intellectual activities. He has greater opportunity to ask questions of people who can answer them in an intelligent way and whet his appetite for further knowledge.
See how this begins to gain momentum? Johnny develops strong motivation and an interest in intellectual activities. He enjoys school, books, puzzles, museums, libraries, etc. He has friends who have similar interests. He receives an impressive array of information from his peers.
Johnny's family expects him to receive higher education and have a rewarding career. His chances of having them are good.
Does this mean that the genes and the genetically determined I.Q are everything? Are our chances of better education and career determined at the time of the conception? That would be a wrong conclusion. Actually, the environment is more important than it appears at first sight. Otherwise, how could some people rise so high from such modest environments?
One reason for such "first generation climbers" may be higher expectations and ambitions of the significant adults in their lives. It may be a parent, an uncle or an aunt, a teacher or a neighbor who has unwavering confidence in the child's ability, kindles an everlasting interest for knowledge or, models personal qualities for him or her to emulate.
Many parents who couldn't receive higher education do their best to make sure their children get what they missed in their own lives. Parental high expectations are matched by children's high level of efforts. High levels of expectations and efforts combined often lead to high results.
A biographer analyzed the personal lives of people who achieved extraordinary success in their lives. One factor that kept coming up in the lives of many geniuses and peak performers was the mother who would never get tired of inspiring and encouraging her child.
"Behind every successful man, there is a woman," can be interpreted in more ways than one.
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