Nature Vs Nurture Pt 2: Intelligence

Jared Cooney Horvath is a globally recognized Science of Learning expert committed to helping teachers, students and parents achieve better outcomes through applied brain and behavioral science.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Grouped Data

A few weeks ago, we kicked off a short video series on the ‘Nature vs Nurture’ debate by looking at a unique piece of research that measured bright and dull rats across different environments.


We learned that genes don’t actually work in the way we’ve traditionally been led to believe, and that genetic expression and environment are inextricably linked.


In video two of this series, we shift our focus from rats to humans by looking at a study that measures genetics and socioeconomic status against academic performance:


Predicting Educational Achievement from Genomic Measures and Socioeconomic Status (Sophie von Stumm et al, 2019)


When this study was first published a few years back it received a good amount of publicity. The main takeaway was that ‘genes and family’ are strong predictors of academic success – and this is largely true … on a group level.


Unfortunately, what was lost in the crude media coverage was just how much variability existed in the data on an individual level – both from a genetic and socioeconomic standpoint.


I address this issue in the video, but suffice it to say that the notion of applying group predictors to individual students raises some serious concerns.


Here are some of the specific questions I tackle in this installment:

  • What is genome-wide sequencing, and what does it reveal about how genes mediate human traits (hint: it’s contrary to what most people believe)?

  • What is a ‘Polygenic Score’, and how are scientists using (or perhaps misusing) this tool to predict genetic expression?

  • How might genetic markers that effectively predict group outcomes be grossly misapplied on an individual level?

  • How does socioeconomic status (an environmental measure) compare to genetics as a predictor of individual academic achievement?

  • What important lesson can teachers and educators learn from this controversial piece of research?

Give it a watch, and let me know what you think in the YT comments section.


And, as always, if you find this video valuable, interesting and/or entertaining, you can support us by liking, sharing and subscribing to our YouTube channel ;)



Video Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to this week's From Theory to Practice, where I take a look at the research so you don't have to.


Now, in this series of videos we're taking a look at the nature-vs-nurture question, and in the last video we saw that genes don't work the way most people think they do. It turns out each gene can code for many different proteins depending on the environment, and similarly different genes can code for the same exact protein depending on the environment.


And we saw what impact this has upon learning – except we were looking at rats, so today let's take a look at humans.


The paper I've selected today is called Predicting Educational Achievement from Genomic Measures and Socioeconomic Status by Stumm and colleagues.


Now to understand this paper, we have to briefly take a look at what's called genome-wide sequencing.


So, even with the only 19,000 protein coding genes human beings have, there is still this belief that we have a kind of one-to-one correspondence between gene and outcome. For instance, there is one gene for eye color or there is one gene for height.


Unfortunately, despite all of our best research, we’ve never been able to find any of these one-to-one genes ...                                     

Click to view remainder of the transcript ...

Did You Enjoy This Post?

Help spread the idea by sharing it with your peers and colleagues ...

NOT ON THE LIST? Click below to join the LME Community ... and receive new Science of Learning articles from Dr. Jared Cooney Horvath every week!