Why did they ever think that?

In the 20th century ( and still today) a lot of time was wasted on psychological theories assuming that family environment in early life had a strong influence on personality and smarts.

Why did anyone ever believe that?



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198 Responses to Why did they ever think that?

  1. vuurklip says:

    It fits the utopian ideology claiming that we are all equal in ability and anyone can be an Einstein.

    • John Stuart Mill was a committed blank-slatist (he argued with Darwin on the matter), yet he was no egalitarian. He held that stupid people ought not to have children, and opposed equal suffrage for the under-educated.

      • dearieme says:

        In his day the highly educated got an extra vote: one vote for your local MP, and one vote for your university MP.

        • That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. Mill was was privately educated, and never affiliated with a university, though, so he would have missed out on that little privilege.
          According to the system he proposed in his Considerations on Representative Government, people could accumulate multiple votes (in the same election and same constituency) by passing exams. Mark Twain wrote a short story, The Curious Republic of Gondour, based on the idea.

          • mtkennedy21 says:

            In Neville Shute’s novel “In the Wet” he proposes, as a prediction of the future of Australia, extra votes for citizens who fulfill certain criteria, such as military service and running a business.

        • Dan says:

          “In his day the highly educated got an extra vote: one vote for your local MP, and one vote for your university MP.”

          If we gave college grads an extra vote today the net result wouldn’t be good. The less educated have had less time to learn things that are false.

  2. Another instance of the hindsight fallacy.

    • Are you speaking about Greg here?

    • ASR says:

      To expand on your response:

      Professor Cochran asked “Why did anyone EVER [my emphasis] believe that?” and the obvious answer is because there were three competing, seemingly reasonable, and poorly tested theories: (1) nurture; (2) nature; (3) some combination of nurture and nature.

      Starting in the late 19th century, and continuing with gathering momentum since, evidence has accumulated that in human beings nature is a far more important predictor than nurture. So now it’s perfectly reasonable to ask “Why does anyone believe that?”

      • Yes, but OP question was “why DID they…”?

        • Woof says:

          Easier to blame Mom and Dad for screwing up your life than it is to accept you’re flawed and can’t be fixed in any fundamental way.

          • mtkennedy21 says:

            It’s also an incentive for parents to treat their children well. The English school boys’ experiences tend to support the genetic theory.

            • Woof says:

              Having accepted that who my kids are was largely set at conception, I’ve found I’m a more relaxed parent and more willing to just let my kids personalities and talents emerge. You do have a point that some parents do treat their kids better because of a fear of screwing them up, but many also try to bully their kids into becoming someone they’re not. I think most kids would prefer benign, loving neglect to an over-bearing Tiger mom making them practice piano for five hours a day when they’d rather be doing something, anything, else.

              • mtkennedy21 says:

                The problem always is to separate the genetics of “Tiger Moms” from their behavior. Maybe they are just genetic high achievers and are trying to use behavior when it is useless. Plomin thinks 50% is behavioral.

    • ThoseSicklesThough says:

      Why? He’s not saying they were stupid in believing it.
      He just wants to know exactly why they believed something he living today
      considers stupid.

  3. misdreavus says:

    Falling birthrates, especially among the intellectual classes.

  4. John says:

    Why? Because they wanted to believe it so they could ‘create a better world’, that’s why. The emotional attraction of believing you can change people for the better is far greater than the honest acceptance of harsh biological realities.

    • another fred says:

      Underneath, the desire to “create a better world” is sometimes rooted in childhood and adolescent social contests for status in a pecking order. It is sometimes a way of gaining status, especially in a society in which the teachings of Jesus are so influential – the first shall be last and the last, first, etc.. In some cases I have witnessed what I believe to be a bit of a revenge motive. Being at the bottom of a pecking order is painful, even destructive, a person who did not want retribution would be abnormal.

  5. georgioxblog says:

    because it’s so intuitive

  6. Frau Katze says:

    Huge numbers of people believe it still. It’s just too much like gambling otherwise . Roll of the DNA dice.

  7. Matt says:

    Freud and his followers built an elaborate theory around that notion. Somehow we’re still on that road even though it never had more to speak for it than, say, demonic possession.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Just a week or so ago I was watching a livestream on Youtube. They were discussing the huge influence on children of having both parents in the home.

      Well, the statistics do correlate but don’t assume causation as Steven Pinker wrote in the “The Blank Slate”. I made a livestream comment suggesting the hosts read the book.

      It’s not a hard concept. The sort of woman who goes from one man to the other, having kids along the way is irresponsible. Perhaps that’s a heritable trait?

      But host said, I’ve already read it and don’t agree with it.

      • Reziac says:

        [let’s try this again… first time seems to have been eaten by the Space Moose]

        I’d put that under: you can only work with what you’ve got, which naturally derives from what you’ve selected for.

        Start with a wolf cub and a sheepdog pup. Let them both run wild (call this a single-parent home). The wolf will kill sheep, and the sheepdog will be somewhere between useless and dangerous.

        Start with a wolf cub and a sheepdog pup. Train them both well (call this a good two-parent home). The wolf still kills sheep; no amount of ‘parenting’ will transform it into a sheepdog. But the sheepdog becomes a useful working dog.

        If you’ve been selecting for wolves (man-hoppers), you’ll only get wolves. If you’ve been selecting for sheepdogs (two-parent families) then you can produce trainable offspring. However the inherited range of what can be achieved by training (from “useless/dangerous” to “useful”) is broad enough to confuse those who think it’s all nurture.

        Incidentally, this has been done experimentally: wolves from captive litters were raised from birth just like dogs, with all the kindness and training they could ask for, in an attempt to prove that it was all nurture. They still behaved like wolves, and when they were half-grown had to be returned to the compound as they were becoming too unsafe to maintain as house pets.

        [Speaking as a pro breeder/trainer of working dogs, I find all this flamingly obvious.]

        • Frau Katze says:

          A famous example was some Soviets selectively breeding foxes for non-aggressiveness toward humans. It didn’t take long to get a line of domesticated foxes. Their appearance also changed: the ears became floppy and their fur colour changed.

          They had no practical use for the domesticated foxes, they just wanted to see if could be done.

          Domestic dogs may have originally the more people-friendly ones who thought if they hung around their camps, someone would toss them a treat. People would be quick and chase off or kill any animal that seemed dangerous.

          Cats weren’t really domesticated. They’re too small to be dangerous and were welcome to kill mice trying to get at grain stores (so this would be post agriculture). Some say that cats have domesticated humans to like them.

    • Jim says:

      Yes concepts such as the id, superego etc. functioned little differently from traditional concepts of spirit possession. They were little people inside of you who were controlling your behavior. Understanding human behavior was reduced to understanding the behavior of these spirits who were however totally inscrutable.

      The average snake-oil peddler in the backwoods of 19th century America probably could have made a more impressive empirical case for his claims than Freud made for his drivel.

  8. Smarter than Urkel says:

    It is called superstition.

  9. Yudi says:

    Children are totally dependent on adults for a long time, and their physical vulnerability and need for nurture is obvious, especially to their parents. Who wouldn’t believe that some aspects of the parents’ personalities rub off on them due to such intimate care? The relative lack of importance of parenting is a pretty unintuitive concept.

    • SMack says:

      It can’t be that, because most cultures don’t succumb to this delusion, and even ours only fell for it recently.

      Greg might say it’s something we forgot once too many people got away from husbanding animals.

      Another possibility: people started having fewer children. The oldest red pill in the book is seeing your own kids differ from each other. But if you only have one or two, it becomes a lot harder to notice. You end up with lots of people who can’t see those differences.

      Add in the fact that our intellectual elites have unprecedented low fertility – many have no children, some only one – and you get a society where the chattering class has unlearned something simple peasants used to know.

    • mike1 says:

      The median child raised by the median parent is going to turn out as their genes would predict. As someone who has both the time, money and desire to spend most of my time with my kids the concept that parenting is unimportant is dangerous nonsense. It was clearly developed by Marxist thinkers as an excuse to shovel your kids through state systems.
      The reason that parenting tends to lack in importance in most people’s lives is due to the shockingly inept job most parents do. When this is the status quo, a teacher with low IQ at your local school and the training to mold minds in the direction of Marxism wins.
      You can’t create “smart” but you can have a huge effect on what a child does with the natural talent it does have as a parent. Kids are also definitely born with a personality too but the idea that family environment has no influence is batty.
      People on the right side of the political spectrum need to fight to win in the portion of human development that does come from nurture. Abdicating that space is how we have genuine Marxists taking over real levers of power in our society. The “my kids turned out OK” excuse doesn’t cut it. Our wider society is not OK.

      • I was a fanatic parent with my two oldest – private schools, reading aloud for 30-60 mins/night each. Everything an educational experience, yet with due concern for free time, emotional support – the whole lot. I am now convinced this did not change them much. That doesn’t mean the time was wasted. It’s fun to share important books with your kids and go places with them. You can’t necessarily up their SAT’s that much, but you can take some care that what their spongey little brains take in is of high quality.

        When you adopt children, the world changes. There is much that resists intervention. Of the three we rescued, one would certainly have done fine without us, the other two might have gone beneath the waves because of how close to the edge they were. Intense intervention isn’t valueless, but it isn’t magic either.

        • ChrisA says:

          I think there is a lot of confusion in this whole discussion between the difference between providing resources (such as schooling, shelter, food etc) which allows children to fulfill their potential and attempting to change personality or intelligence. It is pretty obvious that if you raised a child in a dungeon with no schooling they are not going to have the same life success as say their identical twin sent to a good school and provided with emotional and financial resources of a billionaire. So there is no need to consider money spent on education (of the right sort) and also things like making sure they do their homework as wasted effort. It is not going to change their fundamental personality but it is perhaps going to make their lives better.

          • albatross says:

            If the nurture in question is that you beat your kids, starve them, and feed them lead paint chips, nurture matters. If it’s sending them to an expensive private school and playing Mozart for them as a baby, it doesn’t.

    • lhtness says:

      Parenting in humans is extremely costly, so it has to have an important function for it to persist. But we seem to be confused as to what the function is, or perhaps we aren’t content to accept the obvious? (It’s for survival and teaching them how to become functioning adults.)

    • Dan says:

      Contra Greg Cochran, environmental upbringing matters a great deal.

      If a Jewish kid is born into an ultra-Orthodox family she is likely to have thousands of descendants. If a Jewish kid is born to parents who attend a social justicy Reform synagogue, she is likely to have zero descendants.

      From a biological fitness perspective, isn’t that worthy of at least a little note on the nurture side of the ledger?

      • Frau Katze says:

        These two possibilities are two different cultures (even if they are both in the USA).

        Culture definitely makes a big contribution to the ~50% that is not heritable. Steven Pinker pointed that out.

        No one says it’s 100% heredity. It’s about 50%.

        If this strict Orthodox culture is open to a pair of former SJWs who have decided to go traditional then the parents’ decision makes a big difference.

        But it might not be easily available. You might need relatives there. But I admit I don’t know anything about it.

        Normally you cannot choose your culture. You take what your born into.

        • Dan says:

          “Normally you cannot choose your culture. You take what your born into.”

          You can find a traditional church even in a liberal part of the country and instantly be in a subculture where four, five and six kids is the norm. You can alternatively find an LGBTQ group and instantly be in a subculture where zero kids is the norm.

          Similarly, you can buy a house in the burbs with a good school district and be surrounded by fertile subculture or pay the same in Dupont Circle for a little condo and be in a sterile subculture.

          • Frau Katze says:

            For our purposes it would what the children in these neighbourhoods would be like, they would be all critical peers for your children.

            From my own personal experience the only place I could to buy when my two kids were young teens was a working class area, and the cheapest one at that. I notice my son would occasionally use bad grammar in speaking. All said and done I think he might have been better off in my previous situation (he had a stepfather and we lived in a much better area). He got into a lot mischief and finally stabilized but he’s working class himself. He realizes now he could done better.

            But a child psychiatrist recommended I leave the stepfather. He was not very good as a father but he wasn’t violent or abusive. I imagine the shrink was thinking “nurture” not “nature + culture.”

            My daughter was far more successful, possessing various inborn traits that allowed to overcome the not so good neighbourhood. She just rolled a better DNA dice hand.

            So I’m of the opinion that the one thing you can do for your children is to consider what their peers will be like wherever you choose live.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Christian equivalents like the old order Amish and Hutterites are definitely not open to outsiders.

        The Amish have high rates of diseases that are hereditary and recessive. They could sure use some fresh blood. But these types of obscure sects are normally closed.

        Jews only survived at all because they were prepared for the odd convert. Conversion wasn’t easy or common but enough occurred to survive.

        The Samaritans in Palestine are few in number and have high rates of recessive hereditary diseases.

        I’ve heard (don’t know if it’s true) that outsiders can’t become Hindus. It’s not a really organized religion though.

        The Zoroastrians that fled Iran rather than convert to Islam don’t take outsiders and are dying out.

        These days it’s pretty easy to leave these sects so if no outsiders are permitted in, long term survival is endangered in a globalized world.

  10. Magnus says:

    Bad childcare can result in PTSD. The coping mechanism for dealing with PTSD such as addiction, neurosis, depression can look like aspects of personality rather than environmental adaptations. Adaptations that were useful in childhood and destructive in adulthood.

    • Frau Katze says:

      So you dispute the conclusion of “The Blank Slate” and “The Nurture Assumption”?

      You’ll certainly have a happier childhood with good parenting but does it have a long-term affect?

      • Let me answer the mirror question of whether very bad parentlng can have a long-term effect. It can, though it doesn’t always. Responses are different. Cortisol levels, nightmares interfering with sleep, startle reflexes, attachment disorders – these are possible but not inevitable results and these can effect personality over time. You will notice, however, that I am talking about extreme events, and even those do not guarantee a bad outcome.

        Furthermore, people can unwind and transcend such things once they get out from under the pathological childhood environments. Even if you picked up the symptoms during a horrible childhood they don’t always persist. Some disappear on their own just by entering into the normal workaday world, and others can be minimised with fairly obvious workarounds. Those who have to work much harder may attribute that to the genes of their perpetrators as much as to the experiences.

        I spent a fair bit of time in Romanian orphanages in the 90s, brought two home, and followed also the later lives of their peers who also came to the states to other American families. I also have worked in acute psychiatric emergencies my whole career. I don’t say those to claim especial expertise – I know much more than average yet know many people who know far better – but simply to warn people off contradicting me without thinking it through. I’ve probably heard your cliche – on either side of this argument – many times before.

        I went to college in the 70s and was taught to see environment as all; I am now far on the side of genetic explanations, with the reservation that extreme events are a whole different matter.

        • That would be “affect,” not “effect.” Sigh.

        • sterling sorbet says:

          I’ve noticed that happy people, regardless of upbringing, had happy or reasonably tolerable childhoods, and unhappy people, regardless of upbringing, had terrible childhoods and terrible parents.

        • Joe says:

          Of course, people’s ability to respond to extreme events is genetically influenced as well.

        • I Dave Chamberlin says:

          I too went to college in the 1970’s when we were taught environment was all there was to the development of personality and smarts. All kinds of psychological theories slipped these assumptions in as given, behaviorism for example. It was in hindsight a time when popular optimistic thinking was full of delusional bullshit. We were going to make the world a better place just by a change of attitude. We have moved on from that high point in delusional thinking but not very far. Parenting was a radically different not very long ago. Prior to the advances of modern medicine half the children died before age ten. The typical parents invested far less time, giving far less love to their children not only because they raised large broods but because half of them were going to die soon. If environment was so important, If parenting in precise ways made all the difference in smarts or personality than we could see it and measure it, we can’t.

        • rdancer says:

          There is an assumption that normal parenting doesn’t involve extreme abuse. Yet public schools in the USA are extremely abusive, and everybody is expected to send their children there. The way normal parents behave towards their children is very often extremely abusive; the evidence is right in front of our eyes (antisocial coping behaviour, long-term mental illnesses, obesity rates north of 70%, medicated kids).

          • gcochran9 says:

            You’re nuts. Go away.

            • rdancer says:

              Being called “nuts” by a boomer professor. The irony.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Want another opinion? You’re stupid, too.

              • Frau Katze says:

                What difference does his age make?

                I’ve encountered hostility online over saying I’m a boomer. It seems an entire generation is being blamed for the actions of a small minority. Most people in this age group were not involved in hippy stuff. Furthermore, their elders (aren’t they the “Great Generation”?) caved in totally to the irrational demands of this minority.

                These are my observations from Vancouver, BC. Things might have been somewhat different in the US with the real race problem.

  11. SMack says:

    A good answer needs to account for where this belief has always drawn its most influential and persistent advocates – the Ashkenazim.

    Really the question is how did Jewish mothers conquer the world with their kvelling.

  12. Boyd Silken says:

    Why did anyone ever believe that?
    Isn’t the history of mankind just one long story of self-deception?

  13. Lior says:

    Because parents are similar to their kids.

    • mtkennedy21 says:

      Yes. This is a part of the genetic story. Adoption of very young infants is the social experiment. Friends of mine, both physicians, adopted a family of five kids ages 2 to 13. One of those kids turned out OK. Two went to prison. The parenting was only OK but the genetics defeated everything they hoped for.

  14. JayMan says:

    My guess: it has something to do with motivating parental investment. Pre-modern child mortality rates were pretty high, so if you believe parental input matters (for behavioral traits), it might lead you to “get it right”.

    • pyrrhus says:

      Back in those 19th century days, your kids were your retirement plan, so people didn’t let them starve, but also insisted they learn some useful arts.

  15. teageegeepea says:

    As I recall in “The Nurture Assumption”, there was a lot of research showing correlations between the outcomes of children and certain features of their family or early childhood. The distinction between correlation & causation is often murky to people and even academics will often conflate the two. Twin-adoption studies which could distinguish heredity & shared environment were less common than simple observational studies reporting the familiar correlations with relatively easily available data.

  16. catte says:

    I don’t think we need to resort to sinister utopianists to explain this. A more innocent reason could be: if you were writing a story about a character and you wanted to justify why they are the way they are, having flashback episodes to childhood events is an obvious and narratively satisfying way of accomplishing that. This narrative trope ended up being applied unconsciously to the real world.

    But I suppose that just passes the buck onto having to explain why we find that storytelling device so compelling.

  17. Pat Shuff says:

    ‘It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’

    Cameron’s 1963 text “Informal Sociology: A Casual Introduction to Sociological Thinking”


    I would hardly be surprised that the notion that Nature obliterates Nurture may have more to do with what is measured than what matters. –Steve Sailer


    • Joe says:

      “Nature may not obliterate nurture” – that is simply saying that nature may not be totally determinative, not that it doesn’t rule over most of what has been granted nurture’s domain.

      • Pat Shuff says:

        We’ve six preschool grandkids frequently visiting and that we visit. Good luck untangling the mess of home, civic environments and birth lottery contributions. I don’t dispute the firmly supported findings that parenting has negligible effects on the measured aspects of outcomes derived from the study methodologies employed. For other methodological approach findings, see: single parenting, broken homes, step relationships, non/biological parenting and their contributions in the early formative stages where many things (tastes, values, preferences) get set for life. Aside from parenting, the monumental tasks of child rearing and home environment inputs–

        “I pay the schoolmaster, but ’tis the school boys that educate my son.”

        Ralph Waldo Emerson

        The school system I attended employed tracking back then, class groupings by aptitude grades one thru six, the same classmates and teachers from age six to twelve. Then there’s the neighborhood, it’s ready made playmates, the town and regional cultural variances. Dense urban lifestyle/experience is very different (I’d rather be dead) from a small town, recreational outdoors off the grid hunting shacks, lake cabins, and outhouses
        as normal routines. Different than diddling on dumbphones indoors all day. One’s upbringing and early experience, where, how and when by and with whom are as evidenced as height, hair color, family resemblance and any and every natural in/ability
        (musical, athletic, etc.)

        I’ve zero background in any of these views, whether formal education (no degree dropout)
        nor work experience, possibly a plus. Just seat of the pants observation and experience.
        I remain in contact with the oldest of relationships, their doings and that of their siblings and children and extended families. It is consistent with the notion that nature/nurture is a tangled mess deserving scant little degree of confidence in the claims of measured certainties. Dunno (shrug.) And stickin’ to it.

        “You can observe a lot by just watching.” – Yogi Berra

        • Joe says:

          If not for your handle, based on your comments, I would guess that you are my dad. I’m a lot like him, despite not spending that much time with him.

  18. Young says:

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Smart parents likely to provide a better home environment and smarter kids so, naturally attribute the result to the home environment rather than the inherited smarts.

    • DRA says:

      My father was a Phd candidate in chemistry. My parents divorced after father knocked mom out three times. We were raised in a stable non-violent three parent home, mother and her parents, and we never saw our father from age three until adulthood.

      There were few newspapers and fewer books in our home. None of my mothers nieces and nephews finished college, and to the best of my knowledge neither have their children.

      My brother earned a Phd in physics, and I a BSCE. Both of us were about equally successfully professionally and economically We both married women that have achieved graduate degrees, and both of us are still married to our original wives.

      All of our combined eight children have completed at least a four year degree, with two earning stem Phds, one a JD, and one an MS. Two still in HS and doing well. So far only one divorce among the crowd, and it didn’t involve violence.

      I know this is only an anecdote, and much as I’d like to brag I’ll go with genetics.

  19. Anonymous says:

    plato/rousseau: “take away children from bad parents so they can reach their full potential under state supervision”
    reaction: “muh family”

  20. ThisCannotBeTheFuture says:

    I’m even more befuddled that Freudian nonsense lasted so long in psychology–for some major psychological disorders, into the 1980s. Why did they ever believe that?

    I guess because there’s just something “neat” about the idea of uncovering subconscious scars on the psyche?

    • No, it was about permission to talk about sex, see sex in everything, and be absolved of your sexual thoughts. Freudians and the other ego psychologists were simply obsessed with talking about sex. Relatedly, why did anyone ever accept Kinsey without noticing where his data on children’s orgasms came from, and questioning why a prison population should be a good chunk of his data set of how common various sexual behaviors were? Because you were called a backward person who couldn’t tolerate reality if you didn’t.

      Still are.

  21. Eponymous says:

    Family environment probably mattered a lot more until quite recently. In 1800 elites really were taller and smarter in large part due to shared environment (nutrition and basic education). Not unreasonable to think remaining gaps could have similar causes. And this was so until quite recently: people got taller over the 20th century, and many group IQ gaps decreased.

  22. RCB says:

    What about other times and places? Did people think this way in the past, or in other cultures? What did e.g. the Ancient Greeks attribute differences in personality and smarts to?

    • Eponymous says:

      Deity relatedness coefficient? Achilles was 1/2 immortal, so pretty awesome. Odysseus was only 1/8 divine, so not quite so awesome.

      Some belief in environmental effects: if you were trained by a centaur, or by Aristotle, that could matter. People thought Socrates could corrupt the youth; Plato thought you could improve people through teaching them philosophy.

      For other cultures: Confucius was a blank slater.

      • Point: “Raise up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it” (One of many similar quotes from the Bible).

        Counterpoint: When I was in my 20s I heard and read a lot about “the preachers’ sons being the wildest”.

      • Peripatetic Commenter says:

        The word “environment” means different things to different people.
        I had a discussion with a teacher recently about the difficulties associated with bringing certain demographics up to the level of performance of other demographics.
        I suggested that their current performance ceiling had been acquired over many generations (like, maybe 100 or more) due to the selection effects of the environment they had spent so many generations in.
        She said: “See, it’s the environment! If only we could give them a better environment they would do better!

        (I may have made that last sentence up.)

      • gcochran9 says:

        Odysseus was far more awesome.

        • syonredux says:

          “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
          We are not now that strength which in old days
          Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
          One equal temper of heroic hearts,
          Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
          To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

          Tennyson’s Odysseus, not Homer’s……But still awesome….

        • J says:

          Achilles rebelled against tyranny; Odysseus was a scheming ass licker.

    • savantissimo says:

      The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that birth defects were often caused by the mother’s experiences such as shocks or food cravings during pregnancy, but could also be omens sent by the gods. They believed the timing of births determined personality through astrology. They believed in both literal fate (the Fates) and in luck (Fortuna had one of the oldest temples in Rome), but the influence of the other gods was also extremely important and had to be propitiated through worship and sacrifice or disaster was virtually certain. They believed that character was shaped by that of whoever suckled the child through the influence of the milk, but also believed that the natural tendency to favor one of the “humours” over the other three could affect and be affected by disease and be corrected through treatments. They also believed in heredity and the importance of “blood” in a literal sense, especially in the alleged cases of descent from a god, but the common practice of adult adoption in the Roman upper class and the rarity of sons succeeding fathers as emperors indicates that heredity as such wasn’t considered determinative, not as important as name, social position and the other factors mentioned.

      In other words, they believed many contradictory things.

  23. Peripatetic Commenter says:

    There are also people who think the following article (and the paper it discusses) is the nail in the coffin of Evolution:


    I suspect it is this sentence that gives them hope.

    The observation that Galapagos finch species possessed different beak shapes to obtain different foods was central to the theory of evolution by natural selection, and it has been assumed that this form-function relationship holds true across all species of bird.

    • Joe Smith says:


      He claims to be the world’s smartest man, so he must be right.

      • gcochran9 says:

        A priori, an unlikely claim. There can only be one.

      • Kudzu Bob says:

        This is a falsehood. Nobody ever called Vox Day modest, but he has never claimed to be the world’s smartest man.

        • Logic says:

          He constantly says most people don’t understand his views on varying subjects because he is so much smarter than them. If he’s smart but gullible I’d hate to see stupid and gullible.

          • Kudzu Bob says:

            That was why I said nobody ever called Vox modest. But he has never, at any time, claimed to be the world’s smartest man.

      • A Person says:

        The intelligent design people have always operated from the belief that if they can pick enough nits in evolutionary science, their belief in magic becomes truth. They never consider the possibility that evolution is wrong¹, but intelligent design is still nonsense.

        ¹I don’t share their views on evolutionary science.

      • savantissimo says:

        Nah, Vox Day is arrogant but not quite that arrogant.

        Chris Langan does claim to be the world’s smartest man, and has some backing for the claim, particularly having gotten the highest score on the Mega test and being past president of the 1-in-1,000,000 IQ Mega Society and apparently president-for-life of the dormant Mega Society East. (There was a split after a default court judgement to the most egregious and influential troll of the high-IQ societies, long story.) Chris also disbelieves TENS, at least in its orthodox form, on grounds too subtle for me to relay, and does support Intelligent Design (ID), though he’s not a Biblical Creationist.

        OTOH, Chris wasn’t smart enough to figure out that publishing his big philosophical theory-of-everything in ID journals would ensure that it was written off by academia and virtually everyone else. Now he’s promoting his theory mostly and discussing it only on a Facebook discussion group, which is almost as strategically self-defeating as his association with ID. He’s done a lot more self-defeating things as well.

        Vox Day is almost the opposite; nowhere near as intelligent, but he succeeds at just about everything. Vox is a little bald guy with a squeaky voice that nevertheless has been and likely still is a formidable fighter in competition, while Chris Langan is a huge bodybuilder and ex-bouncer with genius hair and a deep voice. I’d bet heavily on Vox in a fight match with Chris.

        • ThoseSicklesThough says:

          Maybe he believes he created the world himself?

        • The Z Blog says:

          I think Rick Rosner has the highest verified score on the Hoeflin’s Titan Test. His verified test scores are some of the highest recorded. Maybe Langan’s test scores have been made public and are higher. I don’t know. The validity of these particular tests are in dispute, so I don’t know if it is worth discussing.

      • saintonge235 says:

                Please cite where Vox Day said he was the world’s smartest man.

    • J says:

      Feeding the pigeons in the park, seems to me they mostly use their beaks to hold the necks of the females and rape them.

  24. Rosenmops says:

    Backlash against Hitler put the nurture assumption into overdrive, and made genetics politically incorrect, even all these years later.

    Also, it is widely known that severe neglect and abuse (eg Romanian orphanages) CAN have long term consequences. This lends plausibility to the idea that being super parents might have long term consequences, too, even though we know now this isn’t true.

    Most people (at least in the West) would agree that children should be treated kindly and humanely, just as animals should. It will have long term consequences on your children’s memories of childhood, even if not on their personality. Why even have kids if you don’t love them? Perhaps humans (and other mammals) instinctively feel that the care they put into their offspring is an investment in the future of their species, and it is, for without that care their offspring would not survive. It is easy for this instinctive sort of behaviour to morph into the idea that more and better care will lead to better outcomes. In fact it is probably beneficial to survival to believe this. But it can lead to heartbreak when a child you have put your heart and soul into raising turns out to be mentally ill, or have other personality problems, Perhaps some people would be afraid to have children if they realized how powerless parents really are.

    • “Backlash against Hitler” seems plausible, but it may not fit the facts. Carl Degler’s intellectual history “In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought” establishes clearly that in the US blank slate views in psychology, social sciences, and intellectual life more broadly, were on the rise in the 1920s and dominant by the beginning of the 30s. I’m not sure why. It may be that a recoil against Germany and German thinking (eg over-the-top Aryanism and Machtpolitik) during and after World War I had something to do with it.

    • lhtness says:

      The way I see it discussed in the media, it’s treated as a backlash against Hitler (genetics is scary because that can lead to eugenics, which leads to Hitler). Of course, you could just as well argue that Soviet rejection of genetics because of their progressive ideology played a role in millions of people starving to death. Yet, somehow, I don’t see that point argued very often.

      • They explain it; in such way — even if communist governments made millions suffer, they had good intentions in the end whereas Nazis were othering peoples into categories.

      • Joe says:

        Whenever I try to discuss any of these issues the first two things that I am accused of are eugenics and hitler. So whatever started it, hitler has been tasked with carrying it on.

      • Peter Lund says:

        Trofim’s ideas also played a role in the Great Chinese Famine.

        • Unladen Swallow says:

          Sounds likely, never brought up either. The Wiki entry tries to spin it as a peculiarity of Soviet Communism that didn’t travel.

      • Unladen Swallow says:

        That point is never argued, Lysenkoism is too much of an embarrassment to the left, they find it difficult to spin the lessons of it in any way that makes them look good, so they barely recognize it happened and it is never connected to leftist thinking in general. Furthermore the relatives of the people Stalin killed don’t dominate American intellectual life, the relatives of the people Hitler killed do dominate it, it’s as simple as that, really.

        • The G_man says:

          There are lots of Jewish intellectuals who are related to people Stalin killed.

          • Unladen Swallow says:

            True, but a lot of Jewish intellectuals also blindly supported Stalin in his famines and purges though, particularly those not living in Russia. Lots of them also thought Mao and his famines and Cultural Revolution were great as well. There are also not a lot of Russian and Ukrainian gentiles in the US bringing up Stalin’s crimes, much less a lot of intellectuals of that background, there are lots and lots of Jewish intellectuals bringing up Hitler’s, even if they didn’t personally lose any family in Europe.

        • lhtness says:

          Curiously, when I hear about leftist lessons from Lysenkoism, it’s in relation to climate change. (Conservative denials of science are bad, just like Lysenkoism!) Apparently, it doesn’t have any relevance to the very old question of why it is that offspring tend to resemble their parents.

          • Unladen Swallow says:

            I’ve seen that, it’s an absurd comparison. They also try to connect to creationism, even more silly. There is no absolute dictator promulgating these ideas like in Soviet Russia, nor are people who disagree fired, arrested, and executed for disagreeing with a dictator. As I said earlier, their attempts to discuss Lysenkoism all fall flat, it’s also never connected with leftist attempts at social engineering.

    • That’s my admittedly non-expert theory as well. While Progressives championed nurture (New Soviet Man, for example) they also championed eugenics which points to most people having a more balanced view of the two components in the past. The rejection of genetic components as the camel’s nose for eugenics and a deep hope that we could teach kids not to be fascists (look at how well that worked out for Nick Sandmann) put the nurture argument into overdrive.

    • Lelle says:

      ” Perhaps humans (and other mammals) instinctively feel that the care they put into their offspring is an investment in the future of their species,…”

      Perhaps? Ever heard of kin selection?

      The debate nature or nurture is for ever, Greg´s position is nature but of course he do not deny environment also is important. How a child of ten reacts to the loss of his mother depends on his innate traits. He might even be a stronger person as an adult since few things can be worse, nothing will in the future scare him.
      Nobody can deny the importance of the environment, alcoholism would not exist without booze, if you live in a culture which forbid or a restrictive with alcohol the chances of being an alcoholic decreases.

  25. Texan99 says:

    Because some important traits in people clearly do have something to do with their early environment, things like having learned the likely consequences for their actions, and how trustworthy were the adults around them, and whether any adults around them taught them good social skills. Their innate gifts won’t have been changed by any of this, but experience tells us that some people make the most of their gifts while others don’t. Sometimes the difference is chance or innate depth of traits, no doubt, and other times the difference is that their energies are diverted to self-destructive social habits and behaviors that made sense in light of how they saw people around them behaving. They waste time and energy on those useless things. That is not an attractive explanation, because it leaves precious little room for the benign impact of schools employing the shiniest new theories. It makes us more dependent on things like whether adults are held responsible for their actions so they can teach their kids to expect the same.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I don’t think parents teach social skills. From an early age, kids socialize with their peers. They learn almost everything from their peers.

      They quickly learn the culture and language (assuming the parents spoke a different language or had a different accent.)

      I knew a Russian family that were recent immigrants. The mother said she struggled to learn English and she was baffled that her daughter learned perfect English seemingly “from the air.”

      A tendency to be extrovert / introvert seems a heritable trait. I inherited an extrovert tendency from my father and from as early as I can remember, my friends were important to me and I made friends easily.

      My mother was an introvert. In fact, she had no friends, didn’t even keep up with her sister. I thoughts adult friends were strictly a male thing!

      She wasn’t unhappy, but just a loner.

      • Jim says:

        When my father entered first grade in a US public school the only word of English he knew was “hello”. I once remarked to him how difficult it must have been learning English as a second language in first grade. He was astonished at my remark and said he couldn’t remember the slightest difficulty learning English. In no time at all he was teaching my grandmother how to speak English.

      • TB says:

        …I don’t think parents teach social skills. From an early age, kids socialize with their peers. They learn almost everything from their peers…

        Now, but not historically. Kids used to spend lots of time with mom and dad, learning the trade of their parents. Getting stuck in boring classes with scads of same-aged kids is a new thing. I suspect nurture was more important in the past than now.

        • Frau Katze says:

          You wouldn’t be learning a trade until your teens. By then, the social skills are already learned.

          Look at it from an evolutionary point of view. Who will the child need to get along with when he or she is an adult? Their peers or their parents?

          I’m thinking back to the tribal era, where there was constant fighting. Typically, the men of the losing side were all killed. The women and children were taken for the winner to use as wives and/or slaves. In this era there was no written history.

          If a seized child could get along, learn the exact language and accent as the winners, consider his position when he grew up (I’m assuming the loser tribe didn’t look different than the winners). Many years would have passed since the battle. No written history.

          As an adult, he or she is indistinguishable from an adult from the winner tribe. This would increase the chances of doing well in life (like getting a wife who would the bear his children).

          That’s particularly important for a male. Women can be taken as concubines for the high status men. But even so, she will still pass along her genes, no matter who the father is.

          Now this scenario is pretty irrelevant in the present day. But modern humans likely spent a very long time under these conditions.

          Even you must grant that in this day and age, as teenagers, your children do a sharp turn to the peer group. (That was the scenario with my two and it’s pretty typical.). If you haven’t raised teenagers ask people who have.

  26. Bob says:

    Perhaps because societies were more rural and homogeneous. Before cheap air travel and “multicultural” mass migration, most people lived in communities among people more similar to themselves genetically and culturally.

  27. Pincher Martin says:

    Is it really that hard to imagine why so many people thought (and still think) this way?

    I know of four generations of wrestlers, three generations of dentists, and three generations of doctors in three separate family lines. Should one’s first instinct be to look at those family situations and say, “Well, there must be genes for dentistry, medical science, and wrestling”? Or would a more intelligent response be, “Well, he learned his trade because his dad was in it,” or “He’s a good fighter because he learned how to wrestle from his dad”?

    And once you start down the track of reasoning, it becomes natural to say, “He learned his patience for medical study from his dad” or “His dad taught him how to be aggressive on the wrestling mat.” And so on.

    • Airgap says:

      Well, in fact his dad did teach him how to be aggressive on the wrestling mat. It’s just that, as the local wrestling coach, dad tried to teach a lot of wimpier kids how to be aggressive, but they didn’t learn somehow.

      Meanwhile, the dad’s illegitimate son living several towns over does not have anyone to teach him how to be aggressive on the wrestling mat, and becomes a talented linebacker. It’s the power of nurture!

  28. Recusant says:


  29. jb says:

    It seemed plausible enough. Ignoring biology completely was stupid, but the idea that genetics and family environment worked together to form personality was entirely reasonable. I’m mean, what other possibilities were there, aside from family environment? And when it turned out that it wasn’t true, that family environment wasn’t much of a factor, and that the other main factor was some mysterious non-shared environment that nobody to this day really understands, everybody was shocked, and again quite reasonably. Why would you expect people to anticipate that non-shared environment would be so important, when a plausible and easily understandable environmental influence was already available?

    (Also — and possibly relatedly? — I remember reading lots of science fiction stories when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s that riffed on the idea that you could mold people into anything you wanted if you could control their upbringing. It’s a very appealing plot device!)

  30. Stephen Williams says:

    The word ‘Brutalised’ literally means turned into a brute through being brutally treated. Those who did the killing etc in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Cambodia and many other places were people who in different circumstances would probably never have killed or injured anyone. It seems obvious that the surrounding culture enabled their dirty work. Does that mean that all of us would do the same in similar environments? If so I guess that we all have a murdering, torturing essence in our genes and it just needs the right environment to bring it out. Makes me think that there is something in nurture that can repress the worst in us or maybe the best in us.

    • Huh. This was reposted today over at Grim’s Hall on that very subject. https://grimbeorn.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-smell-of-death.html

    • Frau Katze says:

      It’s surprising what people who seem normal will do. Take the historic example of Lizzie Borden, late 19th century.

      It’s pretty clear from reading the case that she killed her stepmother and father because he was discussing changing his will to give more to the stepmother’s family. He was a well to do man in Fall River, Massachusetts. But he was extremely cheap and wouldn’t pay to get indoor plumbing or electricity.

      She was acquitted after a jury of all men couldn’t believe a well brought up woman could do that. She seemed perfectly normal with no proclivity to violence.

      And indeed, she was never violent again. Her life afterwards was completely ordinary and uneventful.

      • albatross says:

        Okay, but suppose you were having a disagreement with her, post axe-murdering phase. How hard would you push on things?

  31. dearieme says:

    “Why did they ever think that?” Because the high correlation between being born to a family and being raised by that family confounded the variables. Though you’d have thought that experiments on farm animals might have knocked the silliness on the head.

    • albatross says:


      The shared genes in the parents and kids lead both to behavior X, and everyone observes “Look at those parents who did X constantly in front of their kids, and now two of their three children are X-doers too. Shameful!”

  32. Lab Rat says:

    Control feels good. Powerlessness feels bad. Simple enough.

  33. Nemo says:

    Because humans are generally predisposed to magical thinking? Observed action-event pairs are often assumed to be causal by default, unless disproven.

    Also, while it seems that the “nurture assumption” and “blank slate” are the obsession of the political left nowadays, I don’t think that has been true generally in the past. Take Ben Shapiro’s genius Baby Hitler argument for example: you shouldn’t kill Baby Hitler because all you have to do is put baby Hitler in a happy family where he wouldn’t grow up to be evil Hitler.

    • Frau Katze says:

      But what would the adult Hitler have been like if there had been no WW I with Germany’s terrible losses that popularized a theory that Jews had “stabbed them in the back.”?

      Or if someone post-war had not noticed that he had a talent for public speaking and encouraged him?

      I don’t think he personally killed anyone. He even tried to keep his name out of the documents on the Final Solution.

      • Jim says:

        He didn’t kill anybody in WW I? If so he wasn’t a very effective soldier.

      • Steven C. says:

        From the Online edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

        In 1913 Hitler moved to Munich. Screened for Austrian military service in February 1914, he was classified as unfit because of inadequate physical vigour; but when World War I broke out, he petitioned Bavarian King Louis III to be allowed to serve, and one day after submitting that request, he was notified that he would be permitted to join the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. After some eight weeks of training, Hitler was deployed in October 1914 to Belgium, where he participated in the First Battle of Ypres. He served throughout the war, was wounded in October 1916, and was gassed two years later near Ypres. He was hospitalized when the conflict ended. During the war, he was continuously in the front line as a headquarters runner; his bravery in action was rewarded with the Iron Cross, Second Class, in December 1914, and the Iron Cross, First Class (a rare decoration for a corporal), in August 1918. He greeted the war with enthusiasm, as a great relief from the frustration and aimlessness of civilian life. He found discipline and comradeship satisfying and was confirmed in his belief in the heroic virtues of war.

  34. another fred says:

    This form of thinking probably has something to do with it. From Bierce:

    EFFECT, n. The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other—which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.

  35. James K says:

    Possibly because psychologists are particularly concerned with pathology. In pathological cases the effects of early family environment are sometimes obvious – even if they are hard to disentangle from heredity.

  36. jbbigf says:

    What about the effect of birth order? It makes sense that birth order affects environment. It doesn’t make any sense I can see that it affects genes.

  37. J says:

    Why did they ever think that? Say you are a neurotic fuckup, whom could you blame? That you were born that way? Inacceptable.

  38. Laffot says:

    Perhaps because an outright traumatic/abusive childhood has obviously negative effects. People may tend to think this would mean “good” child-rearing would have a positive impact, when in fact all that is required is to not actively cause damage.

  39. A Karpuz says:

    Follows from the axiom of Uniformly Distributed Souls

  40. strong influence
    Because “parenting” has a slight influence on something which affects reproductive success; status, perhaps, a slight influence on personality, giving a slight edge over others in the tribe or village where slight edges matter.

    • That doesn’t explain why people thought it had strong influence, it might explain why people acted as though it did – because the slight influencing is the only thing the parents/family could do.

  41. Ulysses says:

    Same reason people gamble and buy extended warranties?

  42. Lelle says:

    The success of Ashkenazim is well documented. Greg´s is sure genetics are the answer others believe in a more conventional explanation.

    I would like to know if anybody know of alcoholism among them? Are there any stats concerning this? Isn´t it fact that very few of them are heavy drinkers, it is not accepted in their culture, so ambitious persons do not drink, their mothers see to that.

    • gcochran9 says:

      ” more conventional explanation” – like what?

    • dux.ie says:

      I would like to know if anybody know of alcoholism among them? Are there any stats concerning this? Isn´t it fact that very few of them are heavy drinkers

      Almost all Europeans are able to metabolize alcohol. The Jews, EastAsians and NatAmericans are the exception with abut 20% of population that have problem metabolising alcohol and some get sick with small amount of alcohol that they are teetotalers or they can adapt to it but have high chance of getting esophageal cancers. Genetic study of alcohol with Sephardics and Ashkenazis from Isreal, EastEurope and Russia,

      “Alcohol and ADH2 in Israel: Ashkenazis, Sephardics, and Recent Russian Immigrants”

      Mutations like ADH2 in Jews and the similar ALDH in EastAsian reduce the level of alcoholism in those populations. Alcohol is known to interfere and damage brain cells communications and the reduction in alcoholism might have contributed to those pops have higher average IQ but the net results for China is that China has 50% of global uncureable esophageal cancer cases. NatAmericans could have other genes that cancel the effect.

      Instead Europeans has significant mutation rates for CCR5 delta32 mutations (about 17% for NorthernEuropeans) which has been proven in mouse model to have improve cognitions and resistance to AIDS but vunerable to West Nile virus. EastAsians have almost zero CCR5 delta32 mutation rate. The Chinese gene edited twin are supposed to have CCR5 mutations but not with complete delta32 abalation.


      Brain enhancement?
      Some studies have shown that defective CCR5 can have a positive effect — at least in mice. Mice without the gene learned to both navigate mazes and remember painful stimuli faster than rodents with the gene6. Overall, deletion of the gene improved the animals’ cognition by 30–60%, says Kevin Fox, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University, UK, and a co-author on the study. “It was a clear and large effect,” he says.

      The Africans have little ADH, ALDH or CCR5 delta32 mutations. The Europeans and the EastAsians mostly have one of each. The ancient Jews might have the Asiatic ADH/ALDH mutations (~0% in Europeans) and the Ashkenazis might have picked up the CCR5 delta32 mutations (~0% in EastAsians) while in Europe, and the significant mutations in both types might explain why they are top of the IQ pile.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for your answer.

      • Frau Katze says:

        That alcoholism varies a lot by ethnic group is certainly my observation but there is almost zero discussion of this. At present, the high rate of alcoholism in Canadian natives is being blamed 100% on evil Europeans.

        I’ve also noticed that the more northerly Europeans (Celts, Russians) have a noticeably higher rate of alcoholism, although not as bad as the Canadian natives.

        If 100% of Europeans can metabolize alcohol, there must be other factors involved.

        My theory (total speculation) is that it’s related to the date that population was first exposed to alcohol. Middle Easterners must have been among the first as the hot, dry climate is ideal. In earlier days, alcoholism would have had a very bad affect on the individual’s ability to function (a alcoholic mother likely having fewer surviving offspring). So an ability to not be one alcoholic would be favoured.

    • Jim says:

      Of course since Islam condemns the use of alcohol that explains why Moslems dominate the winners of Nobel prizes and chess tournaments. Well Sultan Khan was a Moslem I believe so that proves it.

  43. MEH 0910 says:

    • magusjanus says:

      She’s taking her victory lap. She’s a high priestess of progressivism, and she has crushed a heretic under her boot, gaining respectability and status points from her peers for having done so.

  44. wontgetthrough says:

    The State has been expending resources on enforcing marriage contracts for a long time. Its argument being that marriage was the most favorable environment for raising good (low-crime), tax-paying citizens. That’s a heavy thumb on one side of the scale.

  45. Frau Katze says:

    Another thing strikes me. Why do children of the same parents often turn out so different from each other?

    You can even see in a litter of puppies. Yes, dogs have personalities too.

    Another point: recall Bruno Bettelheim. I read his books when my kids were young. He claimed that 1) things like autism were caused by parenting and 2) he could reverse it by taking the child into the care of his special school.

    But it’s now well established that autism is NOT caused by parenting style. And some relatives of Bettelheim’s patients have now said the whole thing was a type of scam. Still, I do think he likely believed what he said and it was not a conventional scam.

    • Rosenmops says:

      After his death it was discovered that his PhD was in art history (or something like that). He faked his credentials. And he was also a plagiarist. He was reported to have a violent temper and to be physically abusive to the children in his school. He killed himself in the end. He was probably insane.


    • Jim says:

      I was informed by my vet that with cats the kittens in a litter may well have different fathers. I don’t know if this is true with dogs.

      B. F. Skinner basically believed that one could take almost any child and by suitable conditioning produce almost any type of adult desired. He also explicitly dismissed any significant effect of genes on how people turned out. He was completely wrong but I’m sure his belief was sincere. Why he was so sure that genetic effects were absent is puzzling but he was.

      • gcochran9 says:

        I haven’t spent as much time as I should slanging skinner. But there are so many idiots…

      • gcochran9 says:

        Common with dogs, too

      • The G_man says:

        Skinner had wildly unrealistic expectations about what you could achieve by education, but he did in fact say that he believed in innate differences in intelligence. Skinner’s basic belief was that the human brain is like a computer with no pre-installed software, but that doesn’t preclude two computers having more or less RAM.

  46. The G_man says:

    There’s a confusion of two things here. Intelligence is mostly genetic with a nutrition also playing a role, but ‘personality’ is clearly substantially determined by environment, just not that of early childhood.

    • Rosenmops says:

      Not true. Every aspect of personality is largely genetic according to the most recent research.

      • The G_Man says:

        Right, because Roy DeMayo would have murdered 60 people if he’d been adopted by Mormons. Or he wouldn’t have, but he’d still have been kind of jerk, which is the exact same thing.

        This only works when you arbitrarily redefine ‘personality’ to refer to exclude the vast majority of what people normally refer to by personality.

        • Jim says:

          No, most all aspects of what is normally called personality show substantial genetic influence. Adopted children as adults resemble their biological not their adoptive parents in character and personality.

          • The G_man says:

            No, most all aspects of what is normally called personality show substantial genetic influence.

            I didn’t say they didn’t. I just said personality is substantially determined by environment, unlike intelligence where the influence is apparently close to null.

            Adopted children as adults resemble their biological not their adoptive parents in character and personality.

            That’s because parenting has little effect on how people turn out, however, peer group and cultural norms have a huge impact on how people turn out. You can come up with a Procrustean definition of personality according to which genetics was the only relevant factor, but you all you would achieve by that is proving that you are a pinhead. Many elements of personality that we really care about (such as, say, the propensity to shoot someone in the head over a minor argument) are determined by environment, some of which are in our control. It’s just that we are wasting are time trying to persuade mothers to be more nurturing to toddlers.

            • Jim says:

              The propensity to shoot someone in the head over a minor argument almost certainly does have a substantial genetic basis.

              • The G_Man says:

                Indeed it does and I said so. The point is this. The effect of environment (nutrition aside) on IQ is basically none. Attempts to boost intelligence by social programs should simply be discontinued. The effect of environment on personality of personality, however, is significant. Attempts to influence personality should be redirected from things that make no difference like early childhood environment to things that make a big difference like peer group during adolescence.

  47. josh says:

    Jobs for the boys?

  48. LeoAquarius says:

    Trauma. Severe trauma in (early) childhood can make person close to non-functional for the rest of the life, which is well documented. It’s not a hard leap from that to assuming that the right combination of other circumstances can have equal, but wonderful influence. And from that to generalization that everything before age 7/10/12 has tremendous impact on adult life.

  49. gkai says:

    a-posteriori rationalisation of the nurturing instinct (or nurturing brain sub-module by the story-telling sub-module – aka consciousness) that went in overdrive.
    Like love for the reproduction sub-module…
    Seems like a common pattern: base instinct got upgraded to a more complex romantised story.

  50. Dan says:

    Did it make no difference that Barack Obama was raised by his mom rather than his dad? Cool theory

  51. ThoseSicklesThough says:

    I posit: It was Soviet wishful thinking about the new Soviet man, that was the root cause.
    The Soviets wanted this to be true, so that by shaping the new Soviet human from childhood on, they can finally be great under communism. Maybe even grow crops!
    Then the West was fed a bunch of lies and propaganda by corrupted and delusional journalists about how awesome the Soviet system was. And since they did put up quite the world-ending threat for the world, the idea, that communism or raising young children in a communist environment gives some kind of magic benefit might have appeared as a plausible explanation for them being so formidable.

    Also because a lot of the Soviet scientists happened to be pretty sharp, there might have been some misattribution of this to a Soviet childhood. That they had actually specialized Math-schools, that Dominic Cummings for example, thinks are worth emulating, didn’t help dispelling the myth.
    We now know in vibrant detail how pathetic and dysfunctional life in the SU often was, but just knowing those anecdotes or seeing some of the dismal numbers, would we have predicted them to be a super power?
    I don’t think so. So I’m not too judgemental about it.
    Besides, when in the 20th century millions are reguarly lifted out of poverty and there’s lots of low-hanging fruit left that’s being picked all the time and there’s lots of improvement due to that, then there’s just a lot of improvement to go around, that needs to be attributed to not always so obvious causes (don’t fall for hindsight bias here).
    Believing the Soviet way and Soviet ideas to be somewhat close to the truth must have appeared more plausible than what we now know as the truth.
    People after all are confused to this day by communism.
    If you point out an atrocity in the Soviet Union to a communist, they often respond with: “Yes, but…[insert something that they think must explain or justify the mismatch]”.

    Was there anybody else before in history, who had this sexy “We will create a new man for our glorious society!”-idea? Can’t think of anyone. Except…
    Well, it was seemingly pulled off by James Stuart, Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place in raising the formidable John Stuart Mill (btw. how exactly did they manage that?).
    Maybe everyone just had John Stuart Mill in mind and figured “Thus, it must be possible!”.

  52. Warren Notes says:

    I’ve read all the answers to the question posed and have a somewhat different answer – emotion. Emotion is the cause of the belief that parenting is an important influence. Kids have deep emotions about their parents, and the feeling is mutual. Of course, when they grow up, they attribute a lot to that relationship. Even academics can have that bias. In earlier years, there wasn’t much research to challenge it. Emotion can carry the day against analysis, ask any salesman.

    SLIGHT defense of Skinner, Gregory, from a guy who had him drilled into him in the ’70’s. His stuff DOES work like a charm and is still being used effectively in a certain range of the intelligence spectrum, which in my days as School Psychologist we called the “Trainable Mentally Retarded” and even the higher-functioning “Educable Mentally Retarded.” In addition, his Intermittent Reinforcement can be seen at work in any casino, making guys like Steve Wynn very well-heeled. I don’t think the old boy was all wrong, in fact, maybe he was LESS WRONG than the “Cognitive Psychologists” who rely so much on self-report. He just worked too much with rats – they’re disgusting. I took care of them in the lab for a brief time, and I just resorted to “pouring” them from one cage into another when they had to be moved. Anyway, I’ve GOT to defend him because – in his day – he was about the only one who had any real data to support his theory!

  53. biz says:

    Wasn’t it a reasonable default assumption? Observationally, parents who give a fuck have successful kids and parents who don’t don’t. It takes longitudinal twin studies and so on to show that the correlation is not causal.

  54. jason young says:

    everyone can remember episodes from their life that taught them a lesson, but very few people can introspect with enough clarity to notice the rules that control their behavior. since people tend to use their self-model to explain and predict the behavior of others, and most people’s self-model is crap, they’re explanations are crap, too.

  55. jason young says:

    their. sigh.

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