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Heredity Versus Environment

Heredity Versus Environment

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Published by Heavy Gunner

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Published by: Heavy Gunner on May 07, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Heredity versus Environment - Beyond Heritability
As illustrated so far, most psychology researchers are in agreement thatheredity and environment both play significant roles in the development of various human traits. Researchers may disagree, however, on the extent towhich heredity and environment contribute to the development of a particular dimension, and on how various factors may affect each other tocreate a certain human characteristic. Neither heritability estimates nor concordance rates provide useful information on the latter type of disagreement: how various hereditary and environmental factors interactwith each other to result in a particular characteristic. Mental health,education, and applied psychology researchers are especially concernedabout optimizing the developmental outcomes among people from all backgrounds. To this end, knowing that there is a .86 heritability estimate for IQ scores among identical twins, for example, is not particularly helpful interms of establishing ways of maximizing the life choices and opportunitiesfor individuals. In attaining such goals, it is crucial to understand howvarious factors relate to each other. Naturally, in order to do so, one mustfirst identify which factors are involved in the development of a given trait.Unfortunately, researchers have had very limited success in identifyingspecific genetic patterns that influence particular psychological and behavioral characteristics. Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that one should ignore the role of heredity as reflected in heritability estimates altogether and focus onoptimizing the environmental factors for every child. Heredity, as has beenexamined, undoubtedly contributes to the development of various humantraits. Also, researchers exploring environmental influences have found thatcontrary to what most theorists expected, environmental factors that areshared by reared-together twins do not appear to be relevant in explainingthe development of particular traits. It is therefore unlikely that exposingevery child to a "one size fits all" environment designed to foster a particular trait, would benefit everyone equally. Some may react favorably to such an
environment, while others may not react to it at all; there may be yet otherswho react negatively to the same environment. The notion of "range of reaction" helps us conceptualize the complex relationship between heredityand environment; people with varying genetically influenced predispositionsrespond differently to environments. As suggested by Douglas Wahlsten in a1994 article in Canadian Psychology, an identical environment can elicitdifferent reactions in different individuals, due to variations in their genetic predispositions. In a hypothetical scenario, Wahlsten suggested thatincreasing intellectual stimulation should help increase cognitive performances of some children. Moderate, rather than high, levels of intellectual stimulation may, however, induce optimal cognitive performances in others. By contrast, the same moderate levels of stimulationmay actually cause some children to display cognitive performances that areeven worse than how they performed in a minimally stimulatingenvironment. In addition, the "optimal" or "minimal" performance levelsmay be different for various individuals, depending on their genetic makeupand other factors in their lives. This example illustrates the individualdifferences in ranges of reaction; there is no "recipe" for creatingenvironments that facilitate the development of particular characteristics ineveryone. Heredity via environment, rather than heredity versusenvironment, therefore, may better characterize this perspective.These views are consistent with the 1990s' backlash against the view thatwas prevalent in the mid- to late twentieth century among many clinical psychologists, social workers, and educators, who focused solely onenvironmental factors while discounting the contributions of hereditaryfactors. Among the theories they advocated were that gay males decidedlycome from families with domineering mothers and no prominent masculinefigures, that poor academic performances result from lack of intellectualstimulation in early childhood, and that autism stems from poor parenting practices. Not surprisingly, empirical data do not support these theories.Still, people often continue to believe, to some extent, that proper 

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