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February 12, 2016

Nature vs. Nurture (CBD)

I saw this article a few weeks ago, and was struck by how confidently the authors reject "nurture" as having any formative power. In Heritability and why Parents (but not Parenting) Matter, Brian Boutwell and Razib Khan argue that the passing of genes is the most important function of parents (not a new idea -- George Williams wrote about it in his first book, Adaptation And Natural Selection in the 1960s), but also that the result of those genes is pretty much baked in the cake.

You are the product of precisely two biological parents (even the so-called, "three-parent babies" are somewhat of a misnomer). Whether you know them or not, whether you like them or not, the fact that you have parents (and were, in fact, not cloned from a prior version of yourself) carries with it great consequences. Yet, family socialization effects on personality are not large, not prominent, and not pronounced (and for many traits, they are absent). What parents do to their children (in particular, their style of parenting and efforts at socialization) does not leave permanent marks and does not differentiate individuals within the population for outcomes like intelligence, antisocial behavior, and a host of other outcomes. So why then, are parents consequential (beyond the obvious role that they play in providing safety, shelter, etc.)? How do we rectify the apparent contradiction?

They do however, in an odd backhanded way, give advice. But it is suspiciously politicized advice that is best left to the editorial pages...

If what you were looking for is an impassioned crusade for why a certain approach to parenting is essential to civilized society, you won't find that here. There are times when it is best to let go of the feelings that you have regarding how the world works. In many cases, your self-assurance regarding your knowledge on some topic affords you little protection from science (anyone joining up for the Flat Earth Society these days?).

A rejection of "Nurture" in favor of "Nature" is one thing, but telling us that some of our "nurture" techniques are incorrect seems to undermine their arguments.

Regardless, it's an interesting idea, mostly as a catalyst for discussion.....

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posted by Open Blogger at 11:30 AM

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