Genes Matter More Than You Think, and Parenting Matters LessWhy Most Social Science Gets It Wrong
Unless you avoid all media like the plague, and likely even if you do, you've heard all about various social and behavioral science 'correlations': spanking children leads to behavioral problems later in life, babies who aren't breastfed develop intimacy problems, children raised in intellectually stimulating environments get better grades.
In the sciences, correlation is a loaded word: while it sounds to untrained ears like it implies the co occurrence of two or more things as if they were causally linked, by itself it really proves nothing. 100% of serial killers breathe oxygen, but no one blames oxygen for what they do. Even if the apparent correlation is more than a pure coincidence (and in the whole of creation, some things will appear to rise and fall, wax and wane together despite having nothing in reality in common), it often tells you less about a direct link and more about hidden variables underlying the correlation.
In the previous example, 'being alive' is the hidden variable in common between breathing and serial killing; you have to be alive to commit murder, and you have to breathe to stay alive. Usually, hidden variables aren't obvious, which is what makes them hidden, but in the social and behavioral sciences, we have a well known hidden variable in plain sight but largely ignored: genetics.
While it is tempting to say that a child can be shaped towards intelligence by parents providing a good learning environment, genetic analyses factoring the intelligence of children and the parenting style of their parental figures together with the genes the child and biological parents of the child share tend to find that this is a more a matter of shared predisposition. The parents, having genes for certain types of intelligence, shape their own environment and those of the children to accommodate their predisposition, and if the child also shares these genes, they will find this a fit match for their own temperaments and strengths.
Consider twin studies versus studies of adoptive siblings: identical twins separated in infancy show remarkably similar personalities in adulthood: similar cognitive styles and skills, temperaments and tastes.
On the other hand, while adoptive siblings can love each other just as much as blood family, their personalities, temperaments, cognitive styles and other aspects tend to diverge significantly, even despite being raised together from a young age. We may inflate similarities, such as shared mannerisms (e.g. the father figure shouted a lot at the TV and so does the adoptive sibling), while ignoring very real differences in other areas.. which, if you think about it, is pretty much how loving emotions work (they minimize differences and disagreements for the sake of a mutually beneficial bond).
And yes, before you say it... parents can absolutely mess a child up if they are really, really bad parents, but a bad driver can also break a car pretty quickly, but it doesn't mean the quality of the vehicle was largely dependent on their driving skills and independent of its basic design and build quality (if it were, we wouldn't need consumer protection agencies to ensure the latter).
Genes are not fatalistic, to be fair, and environment certainly plays a role in development and even genetic expression. Ignoring genetics, however, leads to inaccurate conclusions about causation between environmental and behavioral factors. Humans are not, as Rousseau avowed, 'blank slates' upon which the world impresses itself and thereby determines who and what we 'become'. We are born shaped by primordial biochemical forces, the same as shape all life on this planet.
A deer is not 'born with endless potential', it is born as a deer and will always look and behave like a deer, regardless of environmental influences. Human behavior is much more variable than deer behavior, but the same truth applies to each individual: none of us is born 'unstained' and fit to be shaped to any form. We can be shaped within a range bookended by DNA, and yes, under sufficient strain we can be broken, but there are doors well closed to us by the time the first fetal cells of our body have formed... even if it is sometimes best to pretend, as adults and parents, that we think otherwise.#Genetics #SocialScience