Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape Their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character

Article excerpt

Stranger in the Nest: Do Parents Really Shape their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character David B. Cohen

John Wiley & Sons, 1999

How often do parents, having tried to raise the perfect child, one that reflects their values and goals, find that they have a "Stranger in the Nest," a child that turns out not to be one that reflects their values and desires? This happen often, and explains the title of the new book by University of Texas psychologist, David B. Cohen. The basic message of the book is given in the sub-title "Do Parents Really Shape their Child's Personality, Intelligence, or Character," with the answer a resounding: No! In explanation, Cohen book emphasizes the role of genetic and pre-natal events in shaping intelligence and personality.

The book puts the emphasis on the good news for parents whose children have turned out other than as they would wish. It points out how diseases such as schizophrenia, manic-depression, and autism were once blamed on poor parenting, but now they are regarded as due to biological causes that parents cannot be blamed for. The evidence for these conclusions comes from family studies, especially those of twins and adopted children. For instance, if one twin is schizophrenic, the other twin is schizophrenic about half of the time, a rate about SO% times as great as the about 1% chance of any particular person being schizophrenic. Likewise, the probability of an adopted child growing up to be schizophrenic is much greater if the birth mother was schizophrenic than is she was not. This evidence points to genetic factors being very important. Similar evidence now exists for conditions such as manic- depression and autism, conditions once blamed on bad parenting.

In trying to make the case for parents and other environmental influences having relatively little influence, Cohen points to cases where a person turned out good in spite of appalling environmental conditions. The black scientist, George Washington Carver is one example. Literature is filled with other examples where people somehow found the strength to overcome obstacles. When one asks the question of where the strength came from, there is often no obvious environmental cause. The very plausible answer is that these individuals were born with it, it was in their genes.

In the other direction, the numerous cases where well-intentioned and good parents produce criminal offspring are described. If outstanding individuals produce poor offspring, and poor parents often produce excellent offspring, differences in parenting within the normal range are unlikely to have major effects on basic personality.

Cohen also points to the common observation that siblings, even same sex siblings, are often radically different, both in personality and intelligence (sibling IQ differences average 12 points, which is 70% of the 18 point difference among children randomly selected from the same population). This is hard to explain by traditional social rearing theories since parents usually raise their children in the same way. Yet it is easily explained by a genetic theory (perhaps supplemented by there being a random component in development, such as Miller 1997 has proposed).

For those who might in this present day still be puzzled by the idea that genetic effects can explain differences between siblings (other than identical twins), Cohen explains how roughly half of the genes from each parent are passed on to the child in a random process with the result that each child is genetically different. Genetic theory predicts that siblings will be very different, while only small sibling differences are predicted by the theory that parents shape their children.

The book is divided into two parts. The first focuses on how weak the case for parental effects on children's development is. The second explains genetic and for pre-natal effects. If I had been writing the book I might have reversed the order, first documenting the cases where genetics and other non-parental causes were known to have an effect. …

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