Monday, September 25, 2006

Ordinary people accept nature and nurture: In 2004, the General Social Survey asked people if an athletic black man is explained more by genes or environment, and they were asked to give the answers percentages in 5% increments. The average white American answered 55% nurture. After years of seeing college students turned off by biosocial explanations, I was pleased by this number. I next looked at answers in terms of the respondent's IQ (based on a vocab test): the smartest group was a bit more nurturist than average at 60% environment. The dumbest group thought it was 95% genetic. High intelligence appears to move people in the wrong direction.

Next, I wanted to see how people felt about moral behavior. Respondents were asked about a Hispanic woman who is always good. I predicted that the average would be almost all environment. I was wrong: it was 55% nurturing--the same as the black athlete vignette. I was right, but only for the most intelligent group: they averaged 90% environment. The dullest group said 100% genes.

While it looks like education and taking the proper attitude to enhance one's status may shift a person in the nurturist direction, people in general seem to recognize that both genes and environment play a role in both physical and moral arenas. This gives me a little more faith that, while I'm surrounded by colleagues who make the world feel like a place of nutty radical nurturists, ordinary folks have some sense.

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