Why Some Apples Fall Far From The Tree
Laurence Steinberg is the Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Temple University. An internationally renowned expert on psychological development during adolescence, he is the author of more than 250 articles and essays on growth and development during the teenage years, and the author or editor of eleven books, including Adolescence the leading college textbook on adolescent development. A graduate of Vassar College and Cornell University, he was named as the first recipient of the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize in 2009, one of the largest prizes ever awarded to a social scientist, for his contributions to improving the lives of young people and their families.
Question: What are some of the latest insights into the nature vs. nurture debate?
Laurence Steinberg: So the -- what has taken place in the last decade or so has been a complete transformation of the way that scientists think about nature and nurture. And this distinction between what is genetic and what is environmental is now seen as a false dichotomy. It's a bad way to think about things because genes are not directions that our bodies follow, but switches that can be turned on and off by things in the environment. And so just because you have inherited a genetic inclination toward something, toward a certain personality trait, let's say, or toward, you know, being relatively smart -- things that we know have some genetic component to them -- whether that will actually be realized in your behavior is going to be a function of the environment.
And so we can't think of these things separately, and the questions that people were asking decades ago -- which was how much of this is due to nature and how much of this is due to nurture? -- are no longer being asked because we realize now that they're dumb questions. That's not the way things work. They work together, and we need to understand how they interact with each other. So there are studies, for example, showing that there's a genetic propensity to become depressed. Some people have a genetic profile that is going to make them more susceptible to the changes in neurotransmission that effect the onset of depression. But this genetic propensity only turns into depression if people grow up under stressful life circumstances. So if you look at individuals who've grown up under less stressful circumstances, even the ones with the genetic vulnerability don't develop depression. And this is the new kind of science that's being done now that's so exciting in understanding which environmental conditions turn on and turn off which genes. And that's going to be the new frontier in understanding development.
So when parents ask, you know, why did my kid turn out to be different than me, I mean there's so many reasons, because even if your child inherited your genes, unless your child grew up in the exact same kind of environment that you did, they might not be manifested in the same kind of behavior. And you know, parents don't treat all their kids the same way. Siblings growing up in the same family may have very different experiences both within the home and outside the home. I mean, experience matters. So when we read that things have a genetic basis, we need to be cautious in understanding what that really means. Genes don't determine our behavior. They establish propensities, but those propensities are realized differentially in different kinds of environments.
A developmental psychologist explains the latest findings into the nature vs. nurture debate, highlighting the need to break down the false dichotomy between genes and the environment.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.
1. Increase private sector investment in skills and training<p>The group pinpoints the importance of private sector investment in training employees, especially with the purpose of increasing the upward mobility for lower-wage and less-educated workers. This will particularly affect minority workers, who are overrepresented in this group. The report estimates only about half of employees get training from their employees in any given year. </p>
2. Significantly increase federal funding for training programs<p>The report advocates getting the government to fund training programs that can help lead to middle-class jobs for workers who don't have a four-year college degree. </p>
3. Support community colleges<p>The research team thinks community colleges should be supported by the federal government's money and policies to advance programs that connect employers to the education being received by students. The policies should be aimed at raising degree completion rates at community colleges. </p>
4. Invest in innovating training methods<p>Demonstration and field testing programs that work out new retraining and reemployment ideas should be given particular focus, according to the MIT scientists. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Innovation improves the quantity, quality, and variety of work that a worker can accomplish in a given time," <a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">wrote</a> the report's authors. "This rising productivity, in turn, enables improving living standards and the flourishing of human endeavors. Indeed, in what should be a virtuous cycle, rising productivity provides society with the resources to invest in those whose livelihoods are disrupted by the changing structure of work.</p>
5. Restore the real value of the federal minimum wage<p>The report spotlights the growing economic disparity between low-paid workers and the rest of society. Compared to Canadians, for example, low-paid Americans earn 26% less. Government policy should make sure people in traditionally low-paid service jobs like cleaning, groundskeeping, food service, entertainment, recreation, and health assistance get adequate pay and some economic security. To that end, the researchers propose that the minimum wage should be raised to at least 40% of the national median wage. This value should also be indexed to inflation. </p>
6. Modernize and extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits<p>Several measures are recommended to improve unemployment insurance and extend it to workers that aren't usually covered. The report suggests allowing workers to count their most recent earnings to determine eligibility, determining eligibility based on hours rather than earnings, dropping the requirement that unemployed seek full-time work (because many hold part-time jobs), and reforming partial UI benefits from the states. </p>
7. Strengthen and adapt labor laws<p>Labor laws need to be both improved and better enforced, states the report. Contraction of private sector labor unions makes it harder for rank-and-file workers to bargain for wage growth that matches the growth of productivity growth. How workers are represented needs to be innovated as much as the technologies. Current U.S. laws "retard the development of alternative approaches," write the researchers. For example, due to racial politics during the New Deal, sectors of the American workforce like domestic workers and agricultural workers are unable to participate in collective bargaining.</p>
8. Increase federal research spending<p>In a proposal aimed at fostering innovation and making sure its benefits are experienced by workers, the MIT group thinks it's key to increase government spending on research, especially in areas not addressed by the private sector. These tend to involve longer-term research that addresses the social impacts of new technologies, zeroing in on major national problems, climate change, human health and similar larger research topics. Investing into research on human-centered AI, collaborative robotics and the science of education should be a part of this approach.</p><p>Small and medium-sized businesses should receive targeted government assistance to allow them to increase productivity via the new tech, advises the MIT team. </p>
9. Expand the geography of innovation in the United States<p>Innovation is increasingly "concentrated geographically," think the researchers. For a country that has so many universities, entrepreneurs, and workers that are spread throughout, the benefits of innovation should be made available not only to more workers, but also to more of the country's regions. Each state can have its own Silicon Valley.</p>
10. Rebalance taxes on capital and labor<p>Innovation is necessary in the tax law as well, according to the report. It's important to change the manner in which the current tax code "unduly favors investments in capital" by eliminating accelerated depreciation allowances, applying corporate income tax equally to all corporations, and instituting an employer training tax credit.</p><p><a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">Read the full report here.</a></p>
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
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The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.