We’ve been living with a myth for about a hundred and fifty years, going back to the time of Darwin - although I’m not blaming Darwin for this.  If the blame resides anywhere it’s really with Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton.  The idea is that we think that it’s nature versus nurture, that there are genes that have all this information that want to push us in a certain direction and then there is the environment, which is nurture, which is obviously different and kind of an opposing force. It’s kind of an either/or and there are all these studies that are constantly try to figure out how much is nature and then add onto the nurture. 

Is it 60% nature, 40% nurture, depending on what trait you’re talking about?  It turns out that genes don’t work that way.  Genes are always interacting with the environment, so the new way to think about this is that it’s not nature plus nurture or nature versus nurture.  If anything it’s nature interacting with nurture if you have to use those words. So one of the phrases that scientists are using now is G times E, that is, genetics times environment as opposed to G plus E.  They call it an additive model. 

The additive model is that you have so much inborn intelligence in addition to what you get in the environment.  That would be the nature plus nurture.  The new model is you can’t separate them.  You just absolutely cannot separate the affects of genes from the affects of the environment, so all we can do is identify the resources that we have in our environments and maximize them as best we can.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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