In case you are wondering, "D" is my husband -- Dave Liu! As you've probably noticed, I don't update this blog often but I may post more as I've linked this to my Google+ account.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Is Intelligence Hereditary?

Remember when the idea of an Emotional Quotient (EQ)/Emotional IQ first came out? People loved it because (1) EQ was more important than IQ when it came to succeeding in life and, (2) better still, you could improve your EQ through training - unlike IQ which some people think is "predetermined" at birth. Those who didn't qualify for Mensa were relieved to know that they potentially had an attribute which was a better predictor of success than raw brain power.

What is intelligence? According to this WSJ article (subscription may be required):

"Intelligence has many meanings, but what scientists call general cognitive ability seems to reflect memory skills, verbal and spatial abilities, and abstract reasoning. Usually, if you're good at one, you're good at the others. Although that correlation may reflect not "brain quality" alone but something nonphysiological, such as differences in motivation, it has inspired a search for genes that make better brains.

By isolating these smart genes (if they exist), might one genetically engineer a supersmart person? Not so fast, there are some caveats:

  • What the WSJ calls a "chopsticks effect" (love that term):
"Just because a genetic variant shows up more often in people adept at using chopsticks doesn't mean it causes manual dexterity: It may simply be more prevalent in Asian populations. Similarly, purported IQ genes may cluster, by chance, in groups whose culture values education, yet not actually make a brain smarter.
  • The other problem is that "Neuroscientists can't find any fundamental brain processes that distinguish Einstein from the rest of us -- not speed of neuronal transmission, not the ability to form synapses, not the quantity and quality of neurons... That makes it less likely that genes for those basic characteristics (even if scientists find them) have a significant effect on intelligence."

At the end of the day, nurture may be more important than nature.

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