Nature-vs-nurture dilemma resolved

Many books on psychology put a substantial emphasis on the nature-vs-nurture debate. Psychologist ask which factors are decisive in developing human behavioral characteristics: genetic background or education and upbringing? As far as intelligence is concerned, both genetics and upbringing determine the final outcome. Using reductio ad absurdum we quickly notice that we have not yet recorded a case of a success in science by an individual affected with Down syndrome, i.e. we can easily show that genetics can stifle intellectual development. At the same time, we notice that individuals deprived of education and human contact may be deprived of the ability to read, speak or conduct abstract reasoning, i.e. we can show that lack of education may be equally devastating to the human mind (see: Feral children).

The power of genetics on the functioning of the brain is illustrated by afflictions such as Down syndrome (mental retardation), dyslexia (reading problems), amusia (problems with recognizing sounds and music), unipolar and bipolar disorders (depression and manic-depressive disorder), and many more. These factors on one hand illustrate that we may at birth be handicapped in the quest for genius. At the same time, behavioral therapies used in all listed cases, show the tremendous power of training in developing compensation for disability.

If you look at the human brain from 100,000 years ago, you will not see much difference when compared with today's brains. Yet training and education, as well as the ability to communicate and work collectively, has lifted the human potential to unimaginable levels. See gray insets for more insights on the potential and limitations of the human brain.

High IQ is welcome but it makes up for only a fraction of intelligence Later in the article, I will argue in support for the scientifically obvious statement: well-designed training can produce amazing results in enhancing intelligence Genius is based on good hardware, excellent knowledge, strong motivation, and minimum negative interference.

In other words:

1. it is helpful to be blessed with a healthy brain (hardware)

2. this brain must be subject to a lifelong training in acquiring useful knowledge (software); esp. problem solving knowledge

3. knowledgeable brain must be driven by strong motivational factors (drive), including positive emotions (passion, enthusiasm, love, etc.)

4. well-driven knowledgeable brain must avoid negative interference from inborn weaknesses and destructive emotions (e.g. few things cloud judgment as badly as anger, and few things are as distracting as love)

A genius brain in action will tackle a problem, quickly find an appropriate set of rules, and derive a solution. Actually, the speed of processing the rules is not as critical as the skill in choosing the appropriate rules at hand. For a genius breakthrough, the speed is usually quite unimportant. It took Darwin five years to collect data during his Beagle trip to come up with a vision of the evolutionary process. Yet it took him another 20 years collecting all necessary material, and opinions before mustering courage to publish On the origin of species. The book has changed our view of the human species for ever. It is hard to pinpoint a single breakthrough or a stroke of genius. Darwin's reasoning wasn't blindingly fast neither. Yet Darwin's impact on the ways of the mankind was monumental Anatomical studies show that various areas of the human brain may substantially differ in size between individuals. Yet it is not easy to find correlations between these difference and mental powers. In people with a normal range of IQ, the volume of cerebral cortex may vary twice between one person and the next. So may the extent of differences in metabolic rates in the same organ. Similar differences have been found between such critical brain structures as the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and the amygdala. Connections between the hemispheres can dramatically differ in volume (e.g. seven-fold difference for the anterior commissure). The left inferior-parietal lobule (located just above the level of the ears in the parietal cortex) is larger in men, and was also found to be larger in Einstein's brain as well as in the brains of mathematicians and physicists. On the other hand, the two language area of the cortex: Broca and Wernicke areas are larger in women, which may explain why women might be superior in language processing and verbal tasks. Bigger men have bigger brains but are not smarter. High achievements in all fields require hours of training. This refers to music, chess, sciences, sports and what not. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the famous statement by Edison: "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration". Training can have a miraculous impact on the human brain. It does not matter much how well you were endowed by the genetics. You got no better choice than to commit yourself to a lifelong course of learning. If you are in a minority that shows identifiable genetic limitations, you may need to hone your routine to your particular needs; however, if you have already arrived to this point in this article, health permitting, you are highly likely to be equipped with all the basic intellectual components for building genius. A well-planned training regimen has been shown to lead to a remarkable progress in people suffering from various inborn limitations to the functioning of the brain. The brain's amazing ability to compensate for the limited functionality of its components can be well illustrated by an excellent prognosis for kids with hemispherectomy (i.e. surgery in which half of the brain is removed). If hemispherectomy is conducted early enough, the kid is likely to return to normal life. Due to the brain's symmetry, a damage to the same area on both sides of the brain may be harder to compensate but still not impossible. Dyslexia is a genetically based condition in which reading may pose particular challenge in otherwise bright people. Dyslectics show reduced activity in their language center on the left side of their brain. In dyslexia, training can be very frustrating but the right hemisphere can compensate for the limitations of the left side. To experience the hardship of dyslectic training, pick up the pen in your non-dominant hand and write now the letter that has waited years to be written. Don't just slug it away, try to match the speed of your dominant hand. See the pain? Incidentally, Edison was a dyslectic too. And so was Einstein

Hothouse Children

Hothouse children are children whose parents push them into learning more quickly and earlier than is appropriate for the cognitive age of the children.
The term comes from the verb "hothousing," which researchers coined to refer to parents' attempts to create a "superbaby," in other words, a genius.
These parents provide every type of enrichment they can for their child, beginning in infancy. They play classical music for their infants, and may even use flashcards to prepare their infant for reading and math. When their children become toddlers, the real lessons on reading and math begin, using either flashcards or other methods of instruction.
They also provide piano or violin lessons for their children, often starting when the children are three or four and make every effort to get their children into the "best" preschools, which they believe are the ones that emphasize academics.
Hothouse children are often overscheduled in activities their parents believe are essential to their children's success in life.
The two keys terms in this definition are "push" and "cognitive age." Gifted children are not generally hothouse children even though they are learning material more quickly and earlier than most children their age. However, the learning is child-centered, which means the desire to learn comes from the child, not the parent.
Gifted children can also be hothouse children if and when their parents are the ones initiating - and insisting on - the early learning.

Children need warmth, not the cruelty of 'hothousing’

Driving children to improve their performace at school can damage them forever

How galling it would be to be a head teacher and receive a dozen calls or emails every day from hovering parents, hysterical because Lily hasn’t got the hang of chemistry or Milo is not on course for Oxbridge. I sympathise, therefore, with the headmaster at Uppingham, who warns parents that “hothousing” their children risks damaging them for life.

Richard Harman, who will lead the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference next year, claims that today’s parents monitor their offspring so relentlessly that the poor things can hardly think for themselves. Mr Harman would like mummy and daddy to stop pestering their young about results and refrain from programming their every waking hour in order to improve their performance. Others agree: adopt an attitude of benign neglect towards them and children will grow more resilient.

I’ve met enough “hothousing” parents to recognise that this extreme form of nurturing can snuff out independence. Parent-teacher meetings always bring out the worst offenders, such as the mother I met who completed every one of her son’s sentences for him, admitting that she had “counselled” him on which subjects to study, and which university to apply to. The boy, silent and sullen, oozed resentment from every pore. He could barely restrain his hostility towards everyone around him, and when he said “Mother”, frankly I thought of Psycho and wondered if he’d end up running a motel where unsuspecting blondes showered at their peril.

“Hothousing” parents risk damaging their young. But concern about their exaggerated monitoring should not blind us to the need for a different kind of nurturing. Being watched, praised, restrained – even if the goal is passing an exam – gives children a sense of worth. From that safe, pleasant perch, they can stretch out a hand to others. We complain about nurses, teachers and social workers lacking compassion and patience. But where are the “caring” professionals to learn such nurturing instincts, if not from their own parents?

If my father had not always insisted on picking me up (no matter what the time) from parties when I was a teenager, I would have survived. I’d have learnt to listen for footsteps on the cobblestones in Georgetown, Washington DC, and possibly to carry a whistle, as the policeman who’d taken the assembly at school advised. But I loved being looked after and knowing that, no matter how wild the disco or the teenage party, my dad waited outside in his car. More importantly, my parents showed me how to care for my own brood now – and beyond them, for the friends and in-laws who constitute my circle of intimates.

Clever Mr Harman knows that his parenting advice will appeal immensely to the ambitious mummies and daddies who can afford to send their children to schools like his (for £30,000 a year). Many yearn to get on with their own careers, pilates classes and shellac manicures, and will welcome anyone who sanctions a more hands-off approach.

Let the teenager off the leash, some say, because this is how she will learn to cope with everything from alcohol through anorexia to algebra. And if it just so happens that by letting her do her own stuff, her parents gain lots of lovely time to think of themselves – well, all the better.

I’m sure that this other extreme might spawn an autonomous and capable generation. Latch-key children have a more developed sense of self-preservation than children whose parents hover. They have to be on constant guard, aware of smoke in the kitchen, or someone trying the lock on the back door: they’re on their own. This no doubt emancipates them from reliance on others; like scores of orphans in literature, from Jane Eyre to Harry Potter, children with no parents, or absent ones, grow up stronger and more enterprising than their cosseted counterparts with parents. But at what emotional cost?

Many parents today are overly invested in their children's academic performance. They focus on school readiness and push their children into academic pursuits at younger and younger ages. It is not unusual to find academic preschools for three year olds. There are even whole catalogs devoted to games, DVD's and flash cards to give one's child the competitive edge over his peers before formal schooling even starts. As a result, many children seem advanced when they enter school when, in fact, they are not. This phenomenon is often referred to as "hothousing." Just as you can grow a tomato in the middle of winter given the right forced conditions, children can be trained to such an extent that they appear gifted at young ages. Many parents of such children take great pride in their offspring's accomplishments and do not hesitate to share it with those around them. This overemphasis on early academic achievement creates problems for the child, their parents and their teachers. Three of these problems are listed below.

1. The child feels valued for what he knows rather than for who he is . Parents who draw attention to the achievements of their children create children who do more to get more. The degree of attention they get from their primary care givers is not something they will readily relinquish. They begin to depend upon this attention as a form of validation of their worth. This external locus of control can be a difficult mindset to reverse.

2. Parents may develop a fear of failure . Children who demonstrate advanced abilities often have parents who come to expect a certain level of performance. They may see the child as a reflection of themselves (this is often unconscious). This investment in performance becomes closely tied to their own sense of self worth. The child's grades are no longer simply a grade but proof or discredit for the claims they have made. Failure or a decline in performance becomes something to be feared and that pressure is often translated to their children.

3. Early education teachers may miss truly gifted children . In most schools, enrichment programming for gifted students does not begin until around 3rd grade. This is because many studies have shown that by this age the children who were not given a push early on begin to catch up with their "hothoused" peers, creating a more level playing field. Trying to identify the truly gifted from the children whose parents pushed academics can be difficult. As a result, children with innate gifting may find themselves sidelined until about third grade at which point any passion or thirst for learning may have long since been squelched.

These problems can be avoided. However, it takes a great deal of personal insight, reflection and self-checking on the part of parents to make sure that these issues are not created or perpetuated. All children, regardless of ability, need to be given freedom soar and yes, sometimes fail, on a path that is solely theirs. A parent's job is to support, encourage, love and guide their children so that their unique potential and abilities can emerge unencumbered by unnecessary pressure.