Sunday, February 20, 2011

Genes vs. Culture

Marginal Revolution: What do twin adoption studies show?
Another way to put the point is to examine Judith Harris's claim that genes and peer selection are what shape children. Is the claim about peers -- which falls out of the statistics -- causal? Or are peers best thought of as a sufficient statistic for the broader surrounding culture, thereby placing the causal force in that culture?

If it is the latter, the Harris evidence is simply showing, once again, that both genes and culture matter. Which is fine, but it's hardly a revelation. It also leaves open the possibility that parents who wish to influence their children simply need to try harder to shape their surrounding culture. The Amish are not the only ones who succeed in that endeavor, even if most people do not succeed or wish to try very hard.
When asked why we have chosen to home school our five young boys, my wife and I often cite excessive peer influence.  I wonder if it would be more convincing if we explained that we are trying to limit the influence of the broader surrounding culture?

Whether it is in fact the peers themselves or if they are merely carriers of cultural memes, passing these amongst each other in settings like public schools, doesn't really matter to my wife or me in this regard.  For us, the case for the dominance of gene influence is not yet convincing and the peer/cultural factors still matter tremendously.

1 comment:

Dad29 said...

Having had a few chilluns of my own, my inclination is to agree that 'the wider culture' is more deleterious than 'peers.'

Generally, kids select peers who are like-minded.