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Why The Nature Vs. Nurture Debate Might Be Totally Irrelevant To Your Kid

There’s probably some new study out today about what makes your kid fat, or smart, or successful because the sun came up. And you’re probably going to read it and fret about implementing the findings into your own kid’s life, because you’re a parent. And criminologist Brian Boutwell is going to laugh at your faith in the idea that you have any control over how your kid turns out, beyond the genes you gave them.

In a scathing polemic against the validity of social science, Boutwell trashes the idea that nature versus nurture is even a contest, let alone an evenly matched one. He points out that the vast majority of science served up potential parenting advice (ahem … guilty as charged) is just “non-experimental observational research” that only looks at isolated batches of people with isolated genes. Trying to generalize these findings and apply them to a huge population of parents and kids with their own unique genes is impossible, Boutwell says. And it doesn’t help that the science has a bad habit of reversing its conclusions every other study. Meanwhile, a recent, huge meta-analysis of inheritable human traits found that genetic factors are consistently relevant in categorizing health and psychological outcomes while “shared environments” (that’s your family) just don’t matter that much.

It’s a convincing argument, but it can be pretty handily taken down with evenmore science. First, there are troves of neuroscience that proves the validity of nurture over nature. Second, the science of epigenetics shows that environmental factors can actually change your genes. So don’t let Boutwell talk you out of getting that dog — little Rufus will totally make your kid more emotionally intelligent.

: Quilette