Bit of a Dimwit? You Blame Your Can't Genes; That's the Surprising Conclusion of a New Book That Claims to Settle the Nature V Nurture Debate

Daily Mail (London), February 26, 2016 | Go to article overview

Bit of a Dimwit? You Blame Your Can't Genes; That's the Surprising Conclusion of a New Book That Claims to Settle the Nature V Nurture Debate


Byline: Oliver James

WHEN I was ten, my parents were informed by my headmaster that I was born stupid, and would have to move to a school for the congenitally defective.

To be fair, I was a badly behaved slacker who was always at or near the bottom of every class (the weekly beatings did not help). But the interesting thing is that it was not my genes that made me a thicko.

Although hardly anyone outside the world of science is aware of it, research in the past decade has proved for the first time that no one is made dim or bright by their genes, or for that matter, mad or sane.

It's finally being established that your character and mentality is not in your genes. The age-old nature-nurture debate is over, and nurture has won.

Don't take my word for it: Professor Robert Plomin, a behavioural geneticist at King's College, London, one of the world's leading experts in this field, said last year: 'I've been looking for these genes for 15 years and I don't have any.'

Or look at the huge 2013 study of the genes of twins, whose title told you all you need to know: 'No genetic influence for childhood behaviour problems from DNA analysis'. Many other studies have had similar findings.

Yes, significant genes for differences in physical traits, like height or eye colour, have been identified by the international quest for genes known as the Human Genome Project.

But no genes that matter have been found for psychological traits. I realise many readers will find that hard to believe. If genes do not govern our psychological characteristics, how come things seem to run in families?

That tendency towards depression you can trace way back to your grandmother. That quick-wittedness found in most of your relatives. The tendency to promiscuity on your father's side. Surely, genes must play some part, right? Wrong.

What does shape and govern these traits is nurture. One study showed 90 per cent of children maltreated as youngsters have a mental illness by the age of 18.

And hundreds of studies show the more maltreatment in childhood -- the earlier you suffer it, and the worse it is -- the greater damage it will cause later in life.

We also know 70 per cent of maltreated children become maltreating parents, and the converse is true if parents are wise and loving -- offspring repeat benign patterns when they have children.

What passes down the generations is not genes in DNA that determine our character, but patterns of behaviour from a parent to a child: everything from bickering to humour, snide asides, delicious cooking, beatings, hugging, short-temperedness.

Going back to my childhood, my educational failings had their origins in how my parents cared for me. My mother's father committed suicide when she was 14, and she was raised by an illiterate nanny who hit her.

BECAUSE of that, she struggled to cope when I was small -- it didn't help that there were four of us under five. She was often depressed and irritable, and would whack me round the head.

That was one reason I was an anti-social, angry boy who took badly to school. A great deal of what is assumed to be stupidity is actually just inattention and lack of motivation caused by emotional distress, in turn caused by lack of parental care, not genes.

Also, my parents had mixed feelings about the rigours of education, valuing playfulness above conscientious conformity. They were both psycho-analysts, and this was North London in the Fifties. Regurgitation of rote-learned facts did not go down well where I came from.

Yet I did eventually manage not to be a total academic washout. The reason was that I was treated remarkably differently from my siblings. I was the third of four children -- the others were all girls.

Purely because I was a boy, my father poured love and encouragement into me. Having been one of six brothers, he was much more attuned to boys. …

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