Modern medicine: Your intelligence is in your jeans? (Sorry, in your genes)


Nature or Nurture? What shapes us? In many published studies of human beings, their development and their frailties, it often comes down to a discussion of Nature or Nurture. My doctor son, for example; does he get his academic brilliance from me and his reluctance to fight bureaucracy from being raised by his mother? Nature versus Nurture again. Or how deep is the gene pool?

One area which always interests prospective parents is their likelihood of getting intelligent children or drones. Much has been written about the inherent dangers to the unborn child while it sits, waiting in the wings, so to speak, for that awfully long drawn out 9 months of gestation. Mind you, it could be worse – we could be elephants and have to wait three years to see how a brief encounter in the bush turned out!

Many factors can influence the unborn child in utero, as we doctors like to call that “bun in the oven” stage. Most of these developmental influences are not good influences and may produce children that are smaller than the average – smoking by Mum-to-be being a prime example.

Some clever chaps in Norway sat down and followed around 700 kids from birth to age five. Around half of these children were of low birth weight, and the other half “normal”. So at age five they assessed the children for Verbal Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Non-verbal IQ.

The results were interesting. While the smaller babies did have a very slight lowering in the two IQ scales measured, it was not much. However, the factors that did alter the results were Mum’s non-verbal problem solving abilities and child rearing style. In percentage terms, this accounted for between 20-30% of the variance in the observed children, while birth weight accounted for 1-2% only.

Now before you rush out thinking that it is all genetic and wonder what you have to do to increase the depth of the family gene pool, did you notice that not only were there genetic factors at work (Mum’s non-verbal abilities) but also child rearing style, which is not genetic, but a learned response from her mother. Definitely “nurture”.

To my mind, this shows there is almost certainly a predominance of effect on children by their mothers. Both genetic and nurturing. I’m sorry, Dad. It might take two to tango, but Mum is the all-important one – especially in the first few years of a child’s life.

Now at the risk of being sent hate mail by the lady liberationists out there, I do believe that this demonstrates a very “normal” behavioral pattern. The male of the species Homo sapiens was the hunter-gatherer, while the female stayed at home to cook sabre tooth tiger burgers and raise the offspring. Of course the mother has a greater influence on the preschoolers mind (and the abilities of that mind).

So in answer to the vexed question of how to get intelligent kids, it’s easy. Simply find an intelligent healthy woman, who wants to stay home and raise your brood of geniuses. The harder part is finding one that wants you for her mate!