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Intelligence; nature v nurture (again). Prof. Robert Plomin.

(60 Posts)
Gruach Tue 20-Oct-15 09:15:17

Listening to The Life Scientific on R4 right now.

Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he's fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored. Born and raised in Chicago, Robert sat countless intelligence tests at his inner city Catholic school. College was an attractive option mainly because it seemed to pay well. Now he's one of the most cited psychologists in the world. He specialized in behavioural genetics in the mid seventies when the focus in mainstream psychology was very much on our nurture rather than our nature, and genetics was virtually taboo. But he persisted, conducting several large adoption studies and later twin studies. In 1995 he launched the biggest longitudinal twin study in the UK, the TED study of ten thousand pairs of twins which continues to this day. In this study and in his other work, he's shown consistently that genetic influences on intelligence are highly significant, much more so than what school you go to, your teachers or home environment. If only the genetic differences between children were fully acknowledged, he believes education could be transformed and parents might stop giving themselves such a hard time.

Oh fabulous - he's ducked the "racial inheritance" question.hmm

Pico2 Tue 20-Oct-15 09:28:26

I was lectured by him at university and he was great. I've just started listening and will listen to the beginning later.

Gruach Tue 20-Oct-15 09:36:14

He insists his research is value neutral.

But this type of research has historically had a very strong agenda of its own. It's irresponsible to hold up his hands and effectively say "Oh well ..."

(I'm obviously not an expert.)

Pico2 Tue 20-Oct-15 09:43:30

Would you rather the research didn't happen?

Is it possible for someone to conduct this type of research without having the historical agenda as part of their own agenda?

Gruach Tue 20-Oct-15 09:52:58

I could never not want research.

But the interpretation and uses of the research will always be in the hands of those with most power - who simply can't resist an urge to self perpetuation. (I have no idea what I'm talking about but I know what I mean ...)

museumum Tue 20-Oct-15 10:00:06

This sounds similar to the big Scottish IQ study.
They found lots of correlation between genetics and IQ and health.
I went to a Q&A with some researchers and was fascinated by whether high IQ people make better decisions in life and so live longer or whether as the researcher believed high IQ was an indicator of "good" genes and a healthy physical brain (therefore body).
The correlation between IQ and longevity is pronounced. Certainly in the Scottish cohort.

cressetmama Tue 20-Oct-15 12:59:55

Steven Pinker says the same, Nature will defeat Nurture every time.

TalkinPeece Tue 20-Oct-15 13:42:59

I am surprised that anybody is surprised by it

cressetmama Tue 20-Oct-15 13:49:26

Very interesting programme; have listened to the whole conversation and did not detect any agenda on Plomin's part, other than scientific interest. He acknowledges that the science could be used to underpin education policy from both right and left but slightly aligns himself on the left by arguing that a complex modern society needs to aspire to a minimum floor of achievement for all its children in order to prosper. However, he also notes that his Catholic school and its policy of testing for intelligence channelled him into a high-achievers school and college. For him, from a poor family without books or education, it made the difference.

Gruach Tue 20-Oct-15 13:50:22

As a personal opinion or government policy?

I might say that a child in the family has inherited my brain - but I don't want a policy that prevents a whole race of people from being allowed to take a A' Levels ...

RhodaBull Tue 20-Oct-15 13:52:25

If we are happy to accept that disease is hereditary, or appearance, or height, then why not aspects of brain function?

I agree that it seems terrible to damn someone before they've even started out, but no one is claiming it is an exact science, and that every intelligent person will have an equally intelligent child.

I'm not sure, museumum, whether I believe that high IQ = healthy brain and body. Quite a lot of big brains in my family but nevertheless not a family renowned for making old bones.

noblegiraffe Tue 20-Oct-15 13:52:43

What's the race issue? The worst performers in UK schools as a group are white working class boys.

TalkinPeece Tue 20-Oct-15 13:54:03

What has race got to do with it?

The worst achievers in schools are poor ethnic white British who do not mix with other groups

TalkinPeece Tue 20-Oct-15 13:54:32

cross post with Noble!

cressetmama Tue 20-Oct-15 13:56:37

Plomin's opinion is personal; he prefers the Finnish approach, to aim for at least a decent minimum standard for all rather than the right wing "select the best. and forget the rest". It's not preventing anyone from taking A levels, just acknowledging that not all will succeed.

Gruach Tue 20-Oct-15 14:02:14

I was thinking of the effects of the theory over a much wider period of time and not just in the UK. (Although I'm old enough to have lived through an education system that believed in genetic stereotyping.)

cressettmama It isn't enough to slightly align himself with the left when that minimum floor of achievement is not the logical conclusion of the theory.

edgarallanpoe Tue 20-Oct-15 14:03:50

Yes, very interesting indeed.

This is the site of TED study

There are numerous publications of Professor Palomin's at KCL site.

I found his research on "Genetics and intelligence differences" fascinating.

edgarallanpoe Tue 20-Oct-15 14:04:11


TalkinPeece Tue 20-Oct-15 14:04:14

There is a normal distribution of intellectual capacity.
Accept that and work with it.
No great scary idea IMHO

Jw35 Tue 20-Oct-15 14:04:33

Without nurture, it wouldn't matter what brains you had. Nobody does anything without being secure and happy first. Like Maslow's tower of needs. I think everyone's intelligent to some degree or another and we're all born with the ability to go far. Sometimes horrible circumstances do push some people to do amazing things but generally it's the other way round. Its very hard to truly measure intelligence and there's lots of different types (intellectual, emotional etc). I love psychology but these theories are often flawed in my opinion.

cressetmama Tue 20-Oct-15 14:13:10

He is not talking about measuring intelligence. The point is that intelligence is very largely (better than 50%) genetic, so the nurturing can be perfect but can not significantly improve innate ability.

ItIsHowItIsx Tue 20-Oct-15 14:19:04

Your IQ doesn't determine how successful you are in education or in life. Your environment, upbringing and personality are much more significant factors.

cressetmama Tue 20-Oct-15 14:21:51

Gruach, why is it not enough to align oneself slightly on the left? The extremes of the Bell curve are the territory of bigots, surely? wink

Pixi2 Tue 20-Oct-15 14:22:31

Agree with jw35. Without nurturing, genetically intelligent individuals could end up either side of the spectrum. Just look at the brain development of nurtured vs neglected children.
I'm happy to agree that both genetics and nurture can make a difference.

ItIsHowItIsx Tue 20-Oct-15 14:22:34

Jw35. Well said!

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