Previous   Next

Do you think intelligence is determined more by genetics or environment?

Asked at Massachusetts Street on May 26, 2006

Browse the archives

Photo of Kurtis King

“I’d have to say environment. I know plenty of really intelligent people who have gotten into things that have drawn them away from learning and developing their intelligence.”

Photo of Teresa Kerbawy

“Genetics, because I think you are born with the capability to be more or less intelligent. A good teacher or environment can help nurture it, but you have to have the genetic foundation.”

Photo of Michael Norwood

“I think it’s the environment. People learn from their surroundings. You can put a child from the best stock in the wild and it will be unable to learn. They may know a lot about their surroundings, but they certainly won’t be intelligent.”

Photo of Adriel Alstrom

“I think it’s their environment. If you are around intelligent people, you’re exposed to different ideas and will learn more. If you are always around the same ideas, there is no room to grow.”

Related story


lunacydetector 11 years, 9 months ago

both. if the parents of that toddler didn't give him a map and work with him, he'd never know the countries and he wouldn't be able to perform for friends and relatives, but the kid must be smarter than average.

now, one of my kids, when he was 1 (really 20 months) could tell me his age, count to 10, knew many colors, and he could make up rap songs that rhymed, and i never will admit working with him.

audvisartist 11 years, 9 months ago

There is no clean cut "genetics or environment" when it comes to intelligence. It's a combination of both.

paladin 11 years, 9 months ago

It depends on who you are and where you've been. It could be either, neither, or both.

H_Lecter 11 years, 9 months ago

Kitchen appliances play an important part in intellectual development. (A strong garbage disposal is important to me)

neopolss 11 years, 9 months ago

It depends entirely on how much fruitcake one eats...

bugmenot 11 years, 9 months ago

Depends, the environment of this board seems to create a lot of idiots though.

enochville 11 years, 9 months ago

Both. The clearest way to show that is that identical twins almost always perform similarly on intelligence tests, etc. But, they do not perform identically, even controlling for instrument error, etc. Those differences observed in identical twins, whether they were raised in the same home or across the country, are most likely attributed to environment (i.e., diet, mental exercise, exposure to different ways of thinking and access to books, etc.)

sgtwolverine 11 years, 9 months ago

It all depends on who's standing next to you. Some people will make you look smart, and some people will make you look stupid.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 9 months ago

macn, if yer gonna talk all proper like...ya need ta be cunsistent bout it. yeash!

Liberty 11 years, 9 months ago

Intelligence is not determined by genetics or just by environment (but environment can help support it). Intelligence is determined by your ability to acknowledge God and listen to His words and abide by them.

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

"How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?"

"Turn you at my reproof (correction and instruction): behold, I will pour out My spirit unto you, I will make known My words unto you."

"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded;

But ye have set at nought (nothing) all My counsel, and would (have) none of My reproof:

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you."

"Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me:

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

They would (hear) none of My counsel: they despised all my reproof (correction and instruction)."

"Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices."

"But whoso hearkeneth (listens) unto Me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil."

sgtwolverine 11 years, 9 months ago

Liberty, if you're going to go Biblical, I think it's worth saying that there's a difference between wisdom and intelligence. I don't think the OTS question is referencing wisdom, particularly Biblical wisdom.

enochville 11 years, 9 months ago

Just because it is written in a book does not mean it is true.

sgtwolverine 11 years, 9 months ago

Tinker Toys allow for some amazing creativity, but I think I like Lincoln Logs a little bit more. But only the good wooden ones. Not those plastic Lincoln Logs I've seen.

craigers 11 years, 9 months ago

I will save people the time from saying it. If it was environment, then our president would be more intelligent. He is surrounded by a bunch of smart people (whether they make good decisions is another story), and yet still comes across somewhat...duh? Must be definitely genetic or a combination of both.

Personally, I think it is both. A genetic genius won't become a great intelligent person without the nuturing environment.

craigers 11 years, 9 months ago

Is intelligence book smarts or common sense?

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

Environment is motivational in the development of one's intelligence, but our genetic make-up determines how much the environment can accomplish.

Not that I would ever be picky :) but why is a 2.5 year old prodigy still in diapers?

sgtwolverine 11 years, 9 months ago

Hey, if he were a potty-training prodigy, he wouldn't make the news. He can't be a prodigy in everything!

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

On the weightier question, posed by Our Mighty Bob, I prefer Tinker Toys, I think they provide more creative flexibility:)

craigers 11 years, 9 months ago

Ceallach, I was thinking the same thing about diapers. What is the general age that kids are potty trained by?

ms_canada 11 years, 9 months ago

Well now, I think that fruitcake definitely figures in here. This little kid has obviously eaten a lot of fruitcake. Smart mom there. But we must recognize that we are talking about two different things here. Intelligence and knowledge. We would have to look to science to tell us about intellegence. I think each person is born with a degree of intelligence, the ability to learn. That is over simplirfied of course. What one does with that is measured by the amount of knowledge which that person strives to gain and is able to retain. Example; the little fellow in the article Tavi Shaffer-Green. He obviously had an interest in learning to draw and name the countries of the world. Why? What motivated him? The ability to do that and follow through on his desire was a result of his intelligence. And I believe that is something that we are born with and I guess, that is down to genetics. It is the same with all of our other abilities such as art and music. But these all have to be developed and that is where environment comes into the play. Example; my Auntie Mary, at age 65 joined a neighbourhood art class and everyone was simply astounded by her paintings. For 65 years that talent, that ability, lay hidden. Her life situation and environment did not allow that talent to be developed. My 4 cents worth.

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

craigers, IMHO a parent should start potty training children around 18 months (before if the toddler shows interest). There are always exceptions, both ways, but if it is made fun and lauded as a great accomplishment, children usually respond. My granddaughter had daily contact with children slightly older than herself. From 16 months she wanted to have a little sit when the older girl was being trained. By the time she was 20 months she wore "big girl" panties and seldom ever had an accident. Motivated in no small part by the M&M treat they were given with each "successful" sitting :) Never underestimate the power of chocolate! A little reward helps them be more patient when they need to sit for a while.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 9 months ago

Craigers, I had one kid trained at 18 months, and another was almost 3 before I reached dry-pants-nirvana.

Definitely Lincoln Logs.

craigers 11 years, 9 months ago

Gootsie and Ceallach, thanks. That is a pretty large window. It's pretty much the same with every other milestone with kids. Some just do it at a really early stage, whether it be walking, talking, etc, and then others are real late bloomers.

I liked legos personally.

beatrice 11 years, 9 months ago

Both play a part, but highly intelligent people often have parents of average intelligence, and vice versa. For this reason I believe genetics ultimately plays a stronger role than environment.

Liberty, I'm afraid you now qualify as the Lulu of the Bible bunch.

sgtwolverine 11 years, 9 months ago

I don't have kids, but in observing her grandchildren, my mom, who raised six kids, has noted on several occasions that if the child has no interest in the potty, it'll just be frustrating for everyone. I can't speak from experience, but I figure she must be speaking from experience.

When did you all learn to walk?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 9 months ago

After watching that show on Court TV about the Murray trial, I think I'm far more interested in having wisdom than I am in having intulligunz.

Nice try Liberty, but what you are describing are the things of God, which are never reallly understood in the mind as much as they are in the heart.

Janet Lowther 11 years, 9 months ago

I believe intelligence is mostly genetic. However, environment has a massive influence on how it affects the person's development.

If you are busy wondering where your next meal is coming from, you aren't going to spend enough time drawing freehand maps from memory to develop that ability. A prodigy with the potential to teach herself to read at the age of two will not if no one reads to her. . .

I suspect a child of only average innate ability in an advantaged family where parents pay close attention to their child's intellectual development will outperform a child of much above average intelligence who's parents plop them in front of the TV and ignore them.

Nurture can take advantage of Nature or it can ignore it. When Nature is ignored it is unlikely to achieve its full potential.

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

sgt, I've almost conquered it! Steps still pose a problem, but if I sit and scoot down one step at a time I'm okay.

From my experience with children, grandchildren and just being around others with children, the age range for walking is even harder to define than for the potty. As I understand it, little knees develop at very different rates, and until knees are ready the child cannot balance well enough to walk.

John Spencer 11 years, 9 months ago

Second hand smoke on a roundabout reading biblical passages watching the sewers back up while packing a gun as the SUV's owned by the commish go by determines intellegence.

Linda Aikins 11 years, 9 months ago

"I'm still working on defining what intelligence actually is. IMHO, standard intelligence tests measure one thing, the ability to score well on standard intelligence tests. - OMB"

I think it has to do with knowing when to not respond to posts that are there simply to make someone's you-know-what bigger.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 9 months ago

sgt, I have no idea when I started to walk, but I can tell you that one of my lil' buggers started climbing out of the crib at 6 months! She walked at 9 months, potty trained herself at 18 months, but didn't talk until well after she was two. When she did start talking, she just talked. My other one walked later and I really thought I might send her to kindergarten in diapers, but she started talking as soon as she came out of the womb. Funny that now, my "early physical developer" is the brainiac and my "early talker" is the sports jockette. Who can guess about any of this???

I think that intelligence is both. You have to have the correct wires but you also need an environment that will encourage those connections. Some wires have a short in them and will never connect. This is not said in jest. Some people simply will never be capable of learning as much as others.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 9 months ago

OMB, my "brainiac" child got a 3.97 GPA for the year but did poorly on the standardized tests. She was NOT rewarded at her school awards assembly, but those that got a GPA of 3.0 AND did well in at least one area of the standardized tests were rewarded.

P.S. Kiddies still haven't turned the TV on! :o)

ms_canada 11 years, 9 months ago

Sue makes some good points. Humans are all so different from one another in their growth and development. I remember when my eldest was in grade one, the teacher called me in with her concern that my girl was not learning to read. I was asked to work with her at home. I cried many a tear as I thought my daughter was retarded and would never learn. She is now a professor of communications and a voracious reader with a private library the size one might find in a small village. Another thing I thought of. The cousin of a friend in high school was severely retarded, never went to school but could hear a song on the radio once and sit down and play it perfectly. Never had a piano lesson. But had there not been a piano in the house, who would ever have known of her ability. Strange things, we humans are.

killjoy 11 years, 9 months ago

genius is not memorizing things. genius is analytical ability

Fatty_McButterpants 11 years, 9 months ago

If I were to compare it to baking cookies, genetics are the ingredients and the oven is environment. If you don't cook dough long enough, or too long, or at the wrong temp - your cookie is going to suck. However, if you have bad ingredients from the get-go, the perfect oven in the world won't make them taste good.

canyon_wren 11 years, 9 months ago

I think jrlii describes it really well.

I think everyone is born with a fixed "intelligence capacity," but the environment is mainly responsible for how well it develops and is used. We have all seen articles which describe how "under-utilized" everyone's brain is (although maybe that is not the same as saying "intelligence" is under-utilized?). I think someone as bright as the little boy in the article would eventually have found ways to explore and develop his potential, but having parents who were receptive and encouraging made it obvious much earlier and will mean he can develop it to a greater degree.

As far as toilet training is concerned, it seems to me I heard once that boys, in general, talk later and are ready for toilet training later than girls, but, having only had one girl, I can't say from experience. I certainly agree with the poster who said if you force it before they're ready (or words to that effect), it is only frustrating for all concerned!

Ragingbear 11 years, 9 months ago

There is a huge difference between intelligence and education. Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge. Education is simply knowing facts. My great grandfather only got up to 6th grade before he had to quit school and go to work to support his mother and siblings. However, he is also one of the smartest men I knew. He was an inventor, and made a wide variety of home made puzzles (a number of which you have probably seen.) simple devices, ingenius devices that are in use today, even helped develope some stuff that you see almost everywhere (The vacuum system that runs through the walls, that you plug a hose into like an electric outlet. He helped create the first prototype) and when he was forced into retirement from his job as a maintenance and repair technician at Lever Brother, it took 7 men to replace him, because they could not find somebody that knew all the machines.

I could only imagine what he could have done with an education behind that intelligence.

bankboy119 11 years, 9 months ago

I would say both. The kid can be born a genius but w/o the correct environment may not reach his/her full potential.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 9 months ago

Main Entry: intelli*gence Pronunciation: in-'te-l&-j&n(t)s Function: noun Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin intelligentia, from intelligent-, intelligens intelligent 1 a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : REASON; also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

Well, that's what Merriam-Webster thinks. I've always thought that intelligence is our ability to learn, to take in new information and process it. In that sense, I think intelligence is nature. Someone who does not have the mental capacity for learning is only going to learn so much, ever, no matter how much information you try to cram into their heads.

I also think that IQ tests are a bunch of bunk. Many a young life has been ruined by one, by making a child believe that if they performed poorly on an IQ test, they must be stupid and trying was useless.

I don't think any standardized test is a true measure of intelligence or level of learning. All it really proves is how well some people perform under pressure and time constraints. If they really want to know how much the little buggers know, or their capacity for learning, then let them take the tests until they're matter how long it takes.

Learning, however, is probably mostly environment. Though those with higher intelligence seem naturally more interested in learning, and anything they can get their hands on. What they learn is probably environment. Some people have more opportunities for education than others, especially higher education.

There is a difference between stupidity and ignorance.

I saw a biography of Sidney Poitier on TV once. The man dropped out of school at age 13, and only attended school for a couple of years, but he reads dozens of newspapers from around the world every day, and can write and speak five different languages. Albert Einstein didn't start to walk or talk until he was the age of four. Imagine what an IQ test would have said about him back then.

Intelligence: nature. Education: environment.

beatrice 11 years, 9 months ago

"genius is not memorizing things. genius is analytical ability" -- I'll have to remember that.

craigers 11 years, 9 months ago

I don't know when I started walking but I believe it was right around a year.

beatrice 11 years, 9 months ago

Some related quotes. Hope you enjoy.

"I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing." - Socrates

"Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential" -- Winston Churchill

"Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven." -- Edward de Bono

"Artificial Intelligence: the art of making computers that behave like the ones in movies." -- Bill Bulko

"Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used" -- Carl Sagan

"It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value." -- Arthur C. Clarke

"The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence" -- anonymous

"At a certain age some people's minds close up; they live on their intellectual fat." -- Irish blessing

"God made man stronger but not necessarily more intelligent. He gave women intuition and femininity. And, used properly, that combination easily jumbles the brain of any man I've ever met." -- Farrah Fawcett

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years, 9 months ago

Well if Farrah Fawcett's opinion matters, then I guess I'll toss mine in.

I think it's more about removing barriers. IF a child starts out without anything "wrong" in it's innate abilities, and IF a child's environment isn't detrimental to pursuing a "normal" path of development, then I think most kids start out with the same set of intellectual opportunities.

I also think that we tend to minimize the role that the pre-natal environment plays in a child's chances for a fair shake. That's one reason why I'm so very anti-drug. I don't think we've even begun to understand what some of the so-called "recretional drugs" are doing to the unborn. If extacy does to a develping fetus what it does to an adult, I fear what may come from that. A lifetime of unfairness because some idiot just HAD to get stoned. Irreversable damage.

Liberty 11 years, 9 months ago

Quote from Beatrice,

"Liberty, I'm afraid you now qualify as the Lulu of the Bible bunch."

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

I rejoice and am exceedingly glad!

sunflower_sue 11 years, 9 months ago

Bea, thanks for the Carl Sagan...he was one of my heroes! And Farrah Fawcett...who knew she was so wise? I have a new hero.

sunflower_sue 11 years, 9 months ago

Lincoln Logs! And don't make me come down there, OMB!

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

Enough deep thoughts . . . back to the walking thing . . . more fun, less contention. . . I was also around 1 year when I walked. My girls all walked early -- from 9 to 10.5 months. But my youngest brother started walking, while carrying a little wicker chair, when he was 11 months. If you took the chair, he would not walk. He was 14 months old before he felt secure enough to walk without his chair.

We spend the first 2 years of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk, then the next 14 telling them to sit down and be quiet:):)

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

Maybe those gators were evacuated from New Orleans.

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

They are lucky someone called fish and game -- instead of giving them a big old Texas welcome involving the use of some form of firearms! Maybe Houston is the kinder, gentler, face of Texas:)

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

I didn't realize they were so common in Houston. The valley is probably too hot and dry for gators. Anything growing there, be it produce, plants, grass, etc., is a direct result of irrigation and sprinklers. Hope they don't find their way into those irrigation ditches :-\

Ceallach 11 years, 9 months ago

All y'all have a great holiday weekend!!

snoozey 11 years, 9 months ago

Born a knucklehead, die a knucklehead..

sister 11 years, 9 months ago

Environment plays a huge role. I used to be an intelligent woman, then I had children. Now my days involve much twitching and blank stares.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.