76-101DD Interpretation
Sauer
12/10/1997


Environmental Effect on Intelligence

Many consider intelligence tests a standard for measuring the capabilities of individual members of society. Throughout the United States, elementary schools frequently use IQ tests as a basis for placing "gifted and talented" students in honors classes. Due to the major role intelligence plays in our lives, scientists have tried to determine what influences the intelligence of the average person.

Since the introduction of intelligence tests around the turn of the century, a steady rise in scores has been noticed. Studies have shown that a proper education tends to improve scores on intelligence tests, which have been subjected to major, lengthy criticisms by distinguished scientists (John Horgon 12). A California federal judge once asserted that it is illegal to use intelligence tests to place less intelligent children in less challenging classes (Horgon 12). However, the law does allow and actually require that schools provide honors classes for those students who are deemed by their high scores on IQ tests to be "gifted and talented."

The Flynn Effect, first evident approximately ten years ago, derives its name from a New Zealand political scientist. While studying intelligence testing in the military, James R. Flynn observed that average military recruits were above average in comparison to recruits from a previous generation who had taken the exact same test (Horgon 12). Upon investigating the trend of generation increases in intelligence test scores, Flynn concluded that scores on tests administered to military recruits and students of all ages increase by approximately three points per decade (Horgon 12). Twenty other countries reported similar score increases by generation (Horgon 12).

Joseph Fagan, a psychology professor and authority on infant intelligence at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, has developed a commonly-used test, the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence, based on the reaction of infants to new things (Mark Nichols 41). According to Fagan, "You can predict later intelligence from tests of novelty performance. If I measure a baby at five or six months and he does well, and I come back and test him again at four or five years, the chances are he will score well then" (Nichols 41). This observation coincides with the belief that the environment does not significantly influence intelligence.

Fagan describes a common experiment involving a five-month-old baby: The tester displays a picture of a man for the infant to study. The picture is displayed for the baby again a few moments later, accompanied by a picture of a woman. An infant of normal intellect focuses on the woman since it is unfamiliar. A less intelligent baby does not immediately realize that one of the faces is recognizable because he has just viewed it (Nichols).

Contrary to Fagan's view that intelligence is constant, Adam Cadre believes that the environment significantly influences an individual's character and an individual's intelligence. "The idea is pretty simple. What makes our character? Heredity and the environment" (Adam Cadre 6). One major factor involved in the environmental influence on IQ and intelligence is the television media. The extent to which a person is affected by the media depends on one's age. Cadre offers as an example the counterculture of the 60's:

If you're middle-aged and have lived your life according to a certain set of values, and then the counterculture comes along and attacks your values, that's going to affect you one way. If you're in the prime of life and feel stifled by the rules of older generations, and the counterculture comes along and offers you a chance to be free and experiment with life, that's going to affect you in another way. And if you're very young and the counterculture comes along and suddenly your parents are out finding themselves instead of taking care of you, that's going to affect you in yet another way (Cadre 6).

People of the same age group grew up in the same era and share a certain set of experiences. These experiences act as the common thread that defines a generation.

From one generation to another, the television media exerts the most obvious and long-term influence on children. Throughout previous decades, the popular children's program had been "Sesame Street"; however, recently, child psychologists and media critics have decided that "Sesame Street" is not the ideal children's show it was once thought to be (Cadre 3). Among the complaints regarding "Sesame Street" is that its fast pace is unsettling for young children (Cadre 3). Additionally, much of the humor in "Sesame Street" is presented at an adult level and cannot be comprehended by the average child (Cadre 3). As Cadre points out, "the first generation to grow up on 'Sesame Street' has now come of age -- and look how they turned out: alienated, cynical, completely devoid of any kind of attention span" (3).

Cadre emphasizes that Barney, the purple dinosaur sensation, is more appropriate than Big Bird and the "Sesame Street" gang for children growing up in the nineties (4). "In the world of 'Barney & Friends,' there is no conflict whatsoever. None. No one fights or disagrees, nothing bad ever happens" (Cadre 4). This television program is presented at a level that is completely comprehensible to any three-year-old child (Cadre 4). Anther quality present in "Barney & Friends" but lacking in "Sesame Street" is a single role authority figure who is the focus of the show at all times (Cadre 10).

Concerning the influence of one's environment on intelligence, Kenneth J. Mack states, " . . . similar to the way a conductor directs [a] musical score, the environment exerts a strong influence on how [one's] genetic potential is expressed" (201). The television programs that young children are exposed to prove to be significant later in life because, as studies have proved, early education results in long-lasting changes in the central nervous system (Kenneth Mack 201). Exposure to education at a young age results in long term effects on brain growth, development, and achievement (Mack 201). A study in Shanghai, China, displayed evidence that childhood education may aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. The study concluded that people who drop out after grade school are nearly ten times as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as those educated through high school (Mack 201).

Interactions with positive role models also aid in positive developmental and behavioral changes in children. Max Cyander, an ophthalmology professor and brain researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, believes that gifted children are usually the first born. He hypothesized that this is because parents have more time to dedicate to their first child. This suggestion coincides with the belief that both genetic endowment and childhood environment combine to make certain children gifted.

Rene Spitz, in the 1940s, observed a group of orphans raised in a founding home in comparison with a group of orphans raised in a nursing home attached to a women's prison (Mack 197). The first group was raised with one nurse per seven children, where the infants were isolated from one another in cribs. The cribs were covered with white sheets in order to eliminate interaction among the infants. The female prisoners bestowed special attention on the second group. Because these infants were raised in uncovered cribs, they had the opportunity to observe their environment and interact with one another. When the infants in Spitz's study reached four months of age, the first group appeared slightly more advanced than the second group. However, at two years of age, it was evident that the second group was significantly more advanced than the first. At two years of age, the babies raised by the prisoners were normal. Only two of the twenty-six infants raised in isolation were able to walk at this age (Mack 197). Normally, children are able to walk by the time they reach fifteen months of age. Most of the founding home infants could say only a few words at twenty-four months, while normal infants have a vocabulary of over one hundred words at this age (Mack 197). Spitz's studies demonstrated that an impoverished environment could result in long term delays in development.

Similar results have been noticed in studies performed on adopted children and children living in orphanages in order to determine the impact of the environment on intelligence. A French study on adopted children, published in Nature (17 August 1987), revealed that children either born to or raised by parents of higher socioeconomic status have IQ's that are twelve to fifteen points higher than children born to or raised by parents of lower status (Dolores Kong). Researchers Christiane Capron and Michael Duyme completed their research in the University of Paris genetics lab. Pierre Robertoux, lab director, admitted that this study was the first to demonstrate that children born to high-status parents but adopted by low-status parents have lower IQ's than similar children adopted by high-status parents.

Capron and Duyme's research only evaluated thirty-eight children. However, researchers in this field believe that the design of the study allowed for greater applicability than previous studies. The average age of the children observed was fourteen years. High-status parents in the study had about fifteen years of education and had occupations of doctors, professors, or executives. Low-status parents in the study had about six years of education and were farmers or unskilled laborers. The IQ's of the parents were unknown, but previous studies show connections between higher education and occupational status and IQ. Adopted children born to higher status parents displayed an average IQ nearly twelve points higher than children born to low-status parents did.

The French adoption study did not clarify whether heredity or other biological factors cause biological influence on intelligence. Accompanying the study was a commentary by Matt McGue, a behavioral scientist employed at the University of Michigan:

The carefully designed French adoption study, . . . by clearly showing that the IQ of children is influenced by both their biological background and the circumstances of their rearing, should help behavioral scientists move beyond tired controversies and begin to address the real issues surrounding the mechanisms of genetic and environmental effects (Kong).

Certain environments encourage creativity more than others (R. J. Sternberg and T. I. Lubart 613). Schooling can promote the development of creative minds. To promote creativity, it is necessary to understand the resources on which it draws and to determine how to encourage children to develop these resources (Sternberg and Lubart 613). Robert J. Sternberg and Todd I. Lubart prepare an article with the support of a contract from the Army Research Institute. Sternberg is IBM professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Lubart studies psychology as a graduate student at Yale. Sternberg and Lubart propose an "investment theory of creativity" (608). The basic principle of the theory is that when making an investment, people should "buy low and sell high" (Sternberg and Lubart 608). The greatest contributions are generally made in areas that are undervalued (Sternberg and Lubart).

At all levels of education, most instructors admit that when grading papers, they reward creativity. However, these teachers also acknowledge that they do not normally find much creativity to reward, especially those who interact with younger students. It is possible that some teachers are unable to recognize creativity in the students' work (Sternberg and Lubart 613). In many cases, tests and quizzes do not encourage creativity; therefore, students are not afforded the opportunity to express their creativity. Schools provide environments that encourage learning about and dealing with existing concepts rather than inventing new ones. There is extensive emphasis on memorization and slight emphasis on analysis. According to Sternberg and Lubart, there are two aspects of intelligence, based on the triarchic theory of human intelligence, that are relevant to creativity (609). One is the ability to define and redefine problems. The other is the ability to think insightfully (Sternberg and Lubart 609). Creative people tend to share certain personality traits. The traits include tolerance of ambiguity, willingness to surmount obstacles and persevere, willingness to take risks, and courage of one's convictions (Sternberg and Lubart 610). Creative people are likely to have a legislative proclivity (Sternberg and Lubart 613). A legislative person is one who enjoys formulating problems and creating new systems of rules and seeing new things (Sternberg and Lubart 611). The aforementioned type of person is in contrast to an individual with a judicial style. Intellectual styles are the ways in which people choose to use or exploit their knowledge. Intellectual styles do not concern abilities, instead they concern how these abilities and the knowledge acquired through them are used in day-to-day interactions with the environment (Sternberg and Lubart 611).

Experts have been disputing the degree of influence that heredity and the environment exert on intelligence for many years. Although extensive research and innumerable studies have been done in order to solve this "mystery of intelligence" (Horgon 12), the dispute continues. In trying to determine the impact of the environment on intelligence, researchers encounter difficulty in defining exactly what encompasses a person's "environment." Additionally, each individual person has a unique genetic composition. Therefore, determining the exact degree of influence that genes and heredity have on intelligence would require scrutinizing individuals, both male and female, of all ages, races, social and economic classes, and educational backgrounds over extended periods of time.

On one side of the issue of environmental influence on intelligence, certain authors stick strongly to their belief that that the environment in which a person grows up and lives does not significantly influence that individual's intelligence. Mark Nichols expresses his support for the Fagan Test of Infant Intelligence, and in doing so, reveals his support of the aforementioned idea. The majority of the individuals who share Nichols's views admit that they consider genetic composition and heredity to be the main factors that together determine intelligence and IQ.

Concerning the impact of the television media, regardless of what television programs young children are exposed to, their intelligence is not significantly impacted in the opinion of Nichols and his supporters. In contrast to this theory, Adam Cadre adamantly expresses his support of the idea of encouraging children to watch educational and beneficial television programs that are presented at an appropriate level, so as to increase their intellectual potential. Cadre; along with John Horgon, Dolores Kong, Kenneth Mack, and the combined efforts of R.J. Sternberg and T.I. Lubart; strongly support the idea that the environment in which an individual grows up exerts a definite impact on that individual's intelligence.

John Horgon relays information regarding studies that have demonstrated that a proper education tends to improve scores on intelligence tests. He refers to education at an early age, a point that Kenneth Mack also stresses. Adam Cadre suggests initiating the educational process at a very young age through the exposure to beneficial children's television programs, specifically "Barney and Friends." Mack and Dolores Kong both describe experiments involving children raised by people other than their biological parents -- orphans and adopted children. The studies referred to in Kong's and Mack's works display evidence that children demonstrate ability and intelligence more similar to that of the people who reared them than to that of their biological parents. R.J. Sternberg and T.I. Lubart believe that certain environments encourage creative thinking than others. Interactive television programs encourage young children to express creativity by challenging them to solve problems, create games or songs of their own. Many children attempt to imitate the characters from television programs and incidentally participate in activities that warrant creative thinking.

Neither hereditary factors nor the environment in which a person grows up can singly determine that individual's intelligence. Advancements in the understanding of how genes affect intelligence and IQ lead to the conclusion that in the future, scientists will be able to explain how genes and heredity impact behavior and how environmental and behavioral factors influence genetics. Through the television media which parents expose their children to early in life, they can optimize the children's intellectual potential. By starting young children in the direction towards higher levels of intelligence through the environment in which they raise their children, parents can give their children the opportunity to profit more later in life.

Works Cited

Cadre, Adam. "And the Purple Dinosaur Shall Lead Them: Barney and the Future of Intergenerational Politics." Bad Subjects Mar. 1994.

Horgon, John. "Get Smart, Take a Test." Scientific American Nov. 1995: 12+.

Kong, Dolores. "Nurture Has Role in IQ, Study Says." Boston Globe 17 Aug. 1989:89. Boston Globe. Online. Dialog. 17 Oct. 1996.

Mack, Kenneth J. "Nature, Nurture, Brains, and Behavior." World & I July 1996: 194+.

Nichols, Mark. "Smart Beginnings." Maclean's 29 Aug. 1994: 41.

Sternberg, R.J., and T.I. Lubart. "Creating Creative Minds." Phi Delta Kappan Apr. 1991: 608+.