Research update on “nature vs. nurture” questions, with both therapy and public policy implications

Slate.com, which provides high quality articles about health, science and technology, published an article on 9-28-14 that provides an update about the controversies related to “nature vs. nurture.”  The article is entitled, “Practice Does Not Make Perfect: we are not all created equal where our genes and abilities are concerned.”  The authors begin by critiquing Malcolm Gradwell’s claims about “The 10,000 Hour Rule” (practicing a new skill for 10,000 hours will result in excellence- in other words, as the article states, “prolonged effort, not innate talent, explained differences between experts and novices.j”

The authors review recent research questions “the cornerstone of the American dream—the belief that anyone can become anything they want with enough determination.”  The current research, they report, tells us that, “racking up a lot of deliberate practice is no guarantee that you’ll become an expert. Other factors matter” and it is “crucial to differentiate between the influence of genes on differences in abilities across individuals and the influence of genes on differences across groups.”  They go on to review research that has established an “overwhelming scientific consensus that genes contribute to individual differences in abilities. (The influence of genes across groups)  never been established, and any claim to the contrary is simply false.”

What difference might this make to therapists in the trenches trying to help the people who are consulting them?  The authors provide some guidance with, “Pretending that all people are equal in their abilities will not change the fact that a person with an average IQ is unlikely to become a theoretical physicist, or the fact that a person with a low level of music ability is unlikely to become a concert pianist. It makes more sense to pay attention to people’s abilities and their likelihood of achieving certain goals, so people can make good decisions about the goals they want to spend their time, money, and energy pursuing.”

They conclude with what I think is a powerful statement about public policy:

Societal inequality is thus justified on the grounds that anyone who is willing to put in the requisite time and effort can succeed and should be rewarded with a good life, whereas those who struggle to make ends meet are to blame for their situations and should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. If we acknowledge that people differ in what they have to contribute, then we have an argument for a society in which all human beings are entitled to a life that includes access to decent housing, health care, and education, simply because they are human. Our abilities might not be identical, and our needs surely differ, but our basic human rights are universal.

It should be noted that one of the author’s of the Slate.com article is also a researcher and his research is cited in the article- but they are up front about this.

Richard Sethre, Psy.D., L.P.

www.mhconcierge.com

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