Environmental Effects on Cognitive Abilities

Environmental Effects on Cognitive Abilities

Environmental Effects on Cognitive Abilities

Environmental Effects on Cognitive Abilities


It sometimes seems that it is difficult to pick up a current newspaper or a magazine without it containing a story about some behavioral characteristic for which it has been found that a gene is responsible. Even aspects of behavior that one would feel certain are environmentally controlled are now being attributed in part to the effects of the genes. But genes never act alone: Their effects are always filtered through the environment.

The goal of this volume is to discuss how the environment influences the development and the maintenance of cognitive abilities. It is a successor to the editors' 1997 volume, Intelligence, Heredity, and Environment, and a companion to their new volume, Family Environment and Intellectual Functioning: A Life-Span Perspective. Taken together, the two-volume set comprises the most comprehensive existing work on the relation between the environment and cognitive abilities.

Psychologists, parents, social workers, educators, and employers are all likely to find this book of interest.


Pamela Stern

University of California, Berkeley

Social scientists have long observed that the racial stratification in the United States is organized along the principles of caste (Berreman, 1960, 1966; Davis, Gardner, & Gardner, 1965; Dollard, 1957; Lyman, 1973; Mack, 1968; Warner, 1965, 1970). In the 1970s, the first author of this chapter suggested that observed differences between Black and White Americans in cognitive development and IQ test scores could be explained by using the principle of caste organization (Ogbu, 1974, 1978). This was in response to the intensified nature-nurture debate that followed Jensen's (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973) statements regarding the profound influence of genetics in the determination of IQ. This debate continues to underlie much of the current research on intellectual development (cf. Benasich & Brooks-Gunn, 1996; Bouchard, 1997; Brody & Stoneman, 1992; Brooks-Gunn, Klebanov, & Duncan, 1996; Loehlin, Horn, & Willerman, 1997; Singh, 1996).

We remain dissatisfied with the conventional nature-nurture debate for three reasons. First, it is a debate with no possible resolution. Second, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate White American beliefs about Black American intelligence from the “scientific theories” of differences in Black and White intelligence or IQ test scores. And finally, cross-cultural research increasingly casts doubt on both genetic and environmental explanations, but especially on the genetic explanation.

For these reasons, Ogbu offered the hypothesis that Black-White differences in IQ are due to different cognitive requirements of their respective positions or different ecocultural niches under an American caste system. The . . .

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