In US, poverty dampens genetic influence on IQ

Dec 16, 2015

An analysis of data gathered from 14 independent studies indicates that the influence of genes on intelligence varies according to people’s social class in the US, but not in Western Europe or Australia. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Research suggests that genes and environment both play a critical role in shaping a person’s intelligence. A longstanding hypothesis in the field of behavioral genetics holds that our potential intelligence, as set by our genes, is more fully expressed in environments that are supportive and nurturing, but is suppressed in conditions of poverty and disadvantages. While some studies have provided evidence supporting this hypothesis, others have not.

To better understand the impact of social class on the link between genes and intelligence, psychological scientists Elliot Tucker-Drob of the University of Texas at Austin and Timothy Bates at the University of Edinburgh conducted a meta-analysis, combining data from all available published and unpublished studies.

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9 comments on “In US, poverty dampens genetic influence on IQ

  • The US is a shamefully unequal a society and here is a vital part of the amplifying mechanism.

    Lauding spurious charity over the properly moral stance of welfare to catch all, the poor remain increasingly trapped.

    THIS is the damage of unfettered freemarketry and Randian just desserts.



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  • The myth of the American Dream is actually an immoral nightmare. The rest of the civilized world has universal health care in some form. In America. That’s communism. The rest of the civilized world has a welfare safety net. In America. That’s communism and if you are poor, its your fault. The rest of the civilized world has universal education. In America. Education is a commodity purchased as part of the American Dream. A commodity to be bought and sold like pork bellies. The rest of the world has gun control. In America. That’s communism wanting to take over America.

    America is a victim of its own cultural propaganda. Hollywood rit large. Wagon Train. They created these cultural myths long ago, and like crop circles, even though we know these are fakes, America still persists with its cultural myths, even though the preponderance of evidence would tell a rational homo sapiens to change course.

    Deep sigh.



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  • Poverty stifles opportunity, but how much does it actually impact a person’s intelligence? Prolonged malnutrition and stress can impact brain growth and development, but at the same time there are many well-known instances of people of exceptional intelligence and talent rising out of the most abject poverty and sub-par education. My own son spent most of his formative years in dire poverty as I was a single parent until he was 12. We rarely had enough to eat, and we lived in a rural area where schools weren’t the best. Yet he excelled in math and the sciences and was about to graduate with a degree in geophysics at the time of his death. I myself later got a degree in biology and nursing despite a deprived, religious childhood. I realize this is anecdotal, but I don’t consider myself and my son to be genetic exceptions.



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  • I often read your deeply intelligent and helpful comments elsewhere, Sue. I think your son must have had a most stimulating and profoundly intelligent environment despite what was offered to you both by the state. You are proud of him. He was surely proud of you.



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  • Thank you, Phil. I think that poverty and deprivation made us try harder. We had to get creative to make ends meet and I think that that can be intellectually stimulating as well as difficult. I always wonder what could have been had I and my son had the advantages of a better income…but I don’t regret the time we had in rural Montana when my son was small. You always hear stories about the horrors of rural poverty, but I’d rather be poor in the fresh air, wild country and wide-open spaces of Montana, where you could live off the land to some extent, rather than in the cities, where poverty and hopelessness and crime seem to go hand in hand.



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  • I live in Florida (the home of fundamentalism, and with a church on every corner) and have taught in the Public School System. Recently, on this blog it was reported that a parent is suing his son’s school (here in Florida) because they are not teaching evolution. When I was at MIT, there was a Alumni Publication which lead article stated that if it were not for its foreign students, they would have to close their doors because of a lack of qualified students. China, Japan, India, other parts of Asia and other countries are hungry, in China 12 percent of its university graduates join new start-up, entrepreneurial companies. By 2019, Asia etc.. will outstrip the US and Europe in wealth. And what do we do, as usual we shoot ourselves in the foot, by not preparing our students for the modern world. So, our students remain in poverty, with a poor worthless education and therefore less informed, uneducated and less intelligent.



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  • William
    Dec 22, 2015 at 9:11 am

    When I was at MIT, there was a Alumni Publication which lead article stated that if it were not for its foreign students, they would have to close their doors because of a lack of qualified students. China, Japan, India, other parts of Asia and other countries are hungry, in China 12 percent of its university graduates join new start-up, entrepreneurial companies.

    I observe working in an English university, that large numbers of students on courses in science, mathematics, IT, engineering and business, are Chinese or Asian.



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  • Well of course poverty might affect intelligence among children in America, but if it hasn’t been registered in western Europe it tells us it doesn’t have anything to do with genes. If you’re poor in America you get the teachers that weren’t good enough to work in a private school. Often when people are struggling they tend to seek comfort in religion. Before children starts in school and learns what a fact is, how and why something classifies as a fact. The only way they learn is trough experience and when the first thing they experience is that someone else knows how to walk, talk, swim, read etc. This means the person(s) who thought them all of this have gained their trust as a source of information, so everything they say is considered to be a fact. The problem is when this person(s) teach the kids about religion, they believe in something for no reason. Which stands in the way of critical thinking and doesn’t allow for exercising and challenging their brains. So how can a child’s brain evolve if there are no challenges to deal with they can get better at handling in the future?



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