Epigenetics: Nature vs. Nurture?

In yes­ter­day’s inter­view with Michael Pos­ner, he says:

- “There is a grow­ing num­ber of stud­ies that show the impor­tance of inter­ac­tion between our genes and each of our envi­ron­ments. Epi­ge­net­ics is going to help us under­stand that ques­tion bet­ter, but let me share a very inter­est­ing piece of research from my lab where we found an unusu­al inter­ac­tion between genet­ics and parenting.”

- “Good par­ent­ing, as mea­sured by dif­fer­ent research-based scales, has been shown to build good effort­ful con­trol which, as we saw ear­li­er, is so impor­tant. Now, what we found is that some spe­cif­ic genes reduced, even elim­i­nat­ed, the influ­ence of the qual­i­ty of par­ent­ing. In oth­er words, some chil­dren’s devel­op­ment real­ly depends on how their par­ents bring them up, where­as oth­ers do not — or do to a much small­er extent.”

Now check out this fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle in the Econ­o­mist:Domes­ti­ca­tion and intel­li­gence in dogs and wolves | Not so dumb animals

- “Monique Udell of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da … won­dered whether learn­ing rather than evo­lu­tion explained his obser­va­tions. Her team there­fore worked with a mix­ture of pet dogs, dogs from ani­mal shel­ters that had had min­i­mal inter­ac­tion with peo­ple, and wolves raised by humans.”

- “As they report in Ani­mal Behav­iour, the wolves out­per­formed both shel­ter dogs and pets. Indeed, six of the eight wolves fol­lowed human ges­tures per­fect­ly in more than eight out of ten tri­als. Only three of eight pets were as suc­cess­ful as that and, as with Dr Hare’s wolves, none of the shel­ter dogs per­formed bet­ter than chance. Far from being dumb, then, wolves are smarter than dogs. You just have to bring ’em up proper.”

Which rais­es the obvi­ous questions:

- isn’t “intel­li­gence” more about “adapt­abil­i­ty to new envi­ron­ments” more than about IQ (IQ can be an impor­tant fac­tor in adapt­ing to spe­cif­ic envi­ron­ments, say, engineering)?

- why do we keep talk­ing about nature vs. nur­ture, when they are obvi­ous­ly com­pli­men­ta­ry process­es? time to focus on how to “bring ’em up proper”…and even how to “bring our­selves up proper”

As men­tioned in the post Richard Dawkins and Alfred Nobel: beyond nature and nur­ture, Dawkins says in his great book “The Self­ish Gene” that:

- “We have at least the men­tal equip­ment to fos­ter our long-term self­ish inter­ests rather than mere­ly our short-term ones…We have the pow­er to defy the self­ish genes of our birth and, if nec­es­sary, the self­ish memes of our indoc­tri­na­tion. We can even dis­cuss ways of delib­er­ate­ly cul­ti­vat­ing and nur­tur­ing pure, dis­in­ter­est­ed altru­ism-some­thing that has no place in nature, some­thing that has nev­er exist­ed before in the whole his­to­ry of the world.”


  1. j on October 20, 2008 at 9:08

    Here Here!
    “why do we keep talk­ing about nature vs. nur­ture, when they are obvi­ous­ly com­pli­men­ta­ry processes?”
    A great prompt. I look for­ward to this point of view expand­ing through this world of either/or. How much bet­ter, oppos­ing views harmonized!
    Very love­ly lay­out on this page! Your col­or schemes and use of space delight me!
    In Joy!

  2. Alvaro Fernandez on October 21, 2008 at 10:07

    Thank you for the com­ment and design com­pli­ments :-) will pass them on to the team.

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SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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