Thursday, March 28, 2019

Data: Do Americans think genes or environment are more important?

Do Americans think people act like they do because of environment or genes?  The General Social Survey gave respondents four scenarios:

1) Carol is a substantially overweight White woman. She has lost weight in the past but always gains it back again.

2) David is an Asian man who drinks enough alcohol to become drunk several times a week. Often he can't remember what happened during these drinking episodes.

3) Felicia is a very kind Hispanic woman. She never has anything bad to say about anybody, and can be counted on to help others.

4) George is a Black man who's a good all-around athlete. He was on the high school varsity swim team and still works out five times a week.

Respondents were asked to estimate the influences of environment versus genes for each scenario. Answers ranged from 100% genes (scored as a 1) to 100% environment (scored as a 21). 50/50 would be scored as an 11.

I summed the scores for these four questions, and list the means for ethnic groups below (sample size = 1,842):

Mean environmentalism score

Asian Indians  56.7
Scottish  54.9
Czech  52.6
Italy  52.1 
Filipinos  50.9
American Indians  50.9 
Norwegians  50.9
Russians  50.4
Chinese  50.2
Polish  50.1
English/Welsh  49.9
Jewish 49.4
Irish  49.3

All Americans  49.3

German 49.0
Dutch  47.9
Swedish  47.3
Mexican  47.1
Puerto Ricans  46.3
Danish  46.1
Blacks 45.2
French  44.2
Spanish  43.9

The mean score for all Americans indicates that the average person thinks the traits described are 55% due to environmental influences, and 45% due to genes.  This is not far from the truth as indicated by genetic research. Americans seem to be ignoring their environment-is-all social science teachers. On the other hand, I'm sure by "environment" most people are thinking of experiences which siblings share -- families, schools, etc -- but research clearly shows that these factors are not important.

The highest scoring group, Asian Indians, thinks the traits are roughly 65% environment.  The lowest group, people of Spanish descent, put the estimate at about 50/50.  Hispanics, in general, tend to think genes are more important than other groups. This tendency is also true for blacks, but other non-whites -- Chinese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and American Indians -- think the environment is more important.  It's surprising that several poor minority groups think genes are so important.  The gap between Asian Indians and the Spanish is eight-tenths of a standard deviation -- a large difference.


Interpreting Your Genetics Summit

1 comment:

  1. To most liberal whites, there would appear to be a disconnect between what Blacks and Hispanics say, and the "white privilege" explanation of differences in group outcome. However, they do have a cope: Lewontin's Fallacy permits them to believe in "genetic influence" so long as diversity is all "within" rather than "between" racial groups. What is more, this cope can, if push comes to shove, be extended all the way to "genetic determinism" even though Lewontin railed against that strawman, along with his partner in crime, Gould. I mean, you can't expect a Harvard coed to put _all_ that together at once in her pretty little head can you?

    So, safe from her cognitive dissonance, any group differences in outcome _must_ be due to white privilege and Blacks and Hispanics simply must have read Lewontin, like her!

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