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IQ and genes, Cummings, Gove, prejudice, inequality, social conditions and parenting

Michael Gove’s longstanding advisor, Dominic Cummings has just released a huge document in which he makes many worrying claims, the most pernicious of all being the statement that educational outcomes are most predicted by IQ levels and genetic inheritance. Such ideas are not only dangerous,  they are also completely wrong.

We have long known that IQ is a moveable feast and IQ levels are incredibly responsive to one’s current environment and are also highly related to the kinds of early experiences one has. Cumming’s ideas are yet another way that right wing politicians bash the poor and those who achieve less well and justify the gains from the social and educational advantages that the more affluent can give to their children.

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IQ , breast-feeding and hot housing

An interesting new study by Maria Iacovou, and colleagues from Essex and Oxford Universities, strongly suggests that babies who are fed on demand perform better academically than their counterparts who are fed according to  a strictly timed schedule. For example they scored 4 or 5 points higher on IQ tests at aged 8. This was a large-scale study of over 10,000 babies and so these results not to be sniffed at, and we might usefully speculate about why these effects were seen. An obvious answer is that babies who are fed on demand are having an experience of being sensitively attuned to, empathised with and understood, which in turn leads to developing a strong sense of agency, a belief that they have some control over their destinies and that significant others will be responsive to them. These are all effects also seen in securely attached children, who incidentally also tend to have higher IQ’s. One might assume that demand fed babies are likely to be less passive than those fed on strict schedules. They are also harder work for the parents, as this study in fact attests to, and much more emotionally demanding. The mothers who fed on demand scored lower on most of the wellbeing measures used. This is quite a conflict and another sign of how the interests of mothers and babies are by no means identical, an idea most rigorously developed by Robert Trivers’ ‘parent-offspring conflict’.

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