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Can genetics explain the achievement gap?

January 7, 2008

My mom pointed out this op-ed article, “All Brains Are the Same Color” by Richard E. Nisbett, which was published on December 9, 2007 in the New York Times. Nisbett asks, “Is there a genetic difference between blacks and whites that condemns blacks in perpetuity to be less intelligent?” (read the article here)

My experience is that children learn at a miraculous rate. I make it my priority to interact with them, be on my most compassionate and patient behavior, and read them lots of books. My husband and I have chosen to speak to our children in Spanish and in English. We know that the more words they know, the more daily intellectual exercise they are getting. In our case, we have been greatly rewarded with bright children.

Thanks to The Angry Black Woman for pointing out this cartoon by Ruben Bolling.

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IQ comic

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What do you all think about IQ or learning standards?

  1. January 7, 2008 11:23 pm

    With regards to Genetics, I don’t think there’s a major difference between Blacks and Whites. It’s all about exposure and parenting. Children do learn as an alarming rate and it’s best to set to start them early.

  2. January 8, 2008 10:13 am

    Justin, thanks for your comment. That’s what I think too.

  3. January 8, 2008 10:24 pm

    I could talk about this forever, so forgive me if I rattle on!!! HA!

    I think there are different type of IQs. I think EVERYONE has a place and a talent/IQ for something…even if it is teaching us how to understand them. Some people are great at socializing, selling, math, common sense, music, art, science, some are smart in many areas, some in just a few.

    I think the color of your skin has as much to do with your brain function as the color of your hair….NOTHING! The quicker we (as humans) can get rid of the skin color hang ups, the better.

    Many IQ tests are set up to test how clever one can be, which isn’t testing their abilities or knowledge at all. There are very few out there who know it ALL! Ha! My son has an almost photographic memory. Just because he remembers something doesn’t mean he “knows it” or understands it. That’s how I made it through school, memorizing…not learning…cramming the night before a test.

    Until we can think of a better way (which I think we will) tests/standards/aptitude tests must be given to help guide us. But tests never tell the whole story nor is everyone great at expressing themselves through tests. I think this is why I love the thought of thesis as the a way to go when expressing one’s knowledge about their passion, field, career choice. etc.

  4. January 11, 2008 5:30 pm

    There’s lots of good research on this at and In short, while not all genetic, IQ is heritable and IQ predicts similarly levels of success and failure among whites and blacks in a wide range of things. Since we all evolved in different places, it’s natural our IQs like our physiques are quite different.

  5. January 12, 2008 7:37 pm

    Mr. Roach, we’ve discussed it on your blog before, so it’s only right that we discuss it here too. Thanks for your comment. The article that I referenced is called “All Brains Are the Same Color,” meaning I most certainly disagree with you. You cite studies that back up what you think is right and I cite studies that back up what I think is right. Somehow I knew that this post would attract your attention. It’s amazing how the blogosphere works like that. You have taught me a great deal by referencing Reason Magazine and The Fire in your blog posts, for example. It’s a good thing you influenced me early on in my endeavors as a blogger. You really have changed the way I think and I appreciate it. However, we still disagree about what causes the achievement gap.

  6. chineseambassador permalink
    January 13, 2008 12:35 am

    So like…are Chinese really smarter than whites? And are Indians really smarter than the Chinese?
    I’m curious if I should be “rooting” for my kids to inherit my “brain genes” or my husband’s “asian brain genes”. Inquiring minds want to know!

  7. You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon permalink
    January 13, 2008 3:36 am

    If IQ tests are biased and can be affected by things like education levels, poverty, basic nutrition (even the blogs Mr. Roach cites admit IQ test results are influenced by social issues beyond genetics), then I can’t see how one can cite IQ tests are evidence of anything except the self-referential measure of who is in a group that is favored by the IQ test.

    Of course, certain INDIVIDUALS are more intelligent than other individuals, but in what way? Musically? Mechanically? Able to write a legal brief? Whole societies cannot have an IQ, nor can I see how one would compare the average IQs of a whole society since you have to give a DIFFERENT IQ test to people from DIFFERENT countries based on local norms in culture and language differences.

  8. colorblindcupid permalink
    January 13, 2008 12:58 pm

    Even if a person’s intelligence level may be rooted partially in heredity, that does not equal the assumption that an entire class or race of people would have a different level of intelligence, either higher or lower. I don’t even think one has to do with the other. All the hereditary factor would point out is that certain *individuals* may be able to trace back a bunch of really intelligent relatives throughout their family history – regardless of their race.

    I’m not sure I understand Mr. Roach’s point – are you saying that because the black race originated in a different geographic location than the white race, that the early evolution of the race perhaps affected their current levels of IQ – even though the race at large (esp in the U.S.) has been effectively mixed with other races for generations? Or that their earlier culture affected it? (which would be a non-hereditary factor)

  9. ara0062 permalink
    January 14, 2008 12:41 am

    I believe it to be due to a mixture of both genetics and nurture. From a biochemical standpoint, those most closely related will have more similar IQ, but in studies done on identical twins *the most closely-related you can get*, studies between those raised together vs. apart proved that those reared together had more similar IQ’s than those raised apart. Race should not necessarily factor into this because where people are raised will affect the outcomes of the IQ’s. I am unsure about black people in the North, but in the South, a lot of times they tend to segregate themselves from other races and tend to say that they are just not intellectually inclined, but instead more athletically inclined. Therefore, some of this race tend to simply not learn because they are told they couldn’t do it to begin with based on their environment, although genetically, who knows.

  10. ara0062 permalink
    January 14, 2008 12:47 am

    Also, if I recall from my Psychology 101 class, there ARE IQ tests based on ethnicities and on regional backgrounds to try and make a test that is compatible all across the board. But, my memory could be faulty on that.

  11. January 15, 2008 11:45 am

    Chinese Ambassador, the thought of rooting for my children’s brain genes has been making me laugh for the last couple of days. I am sure to root for my children’s white brain genes since Peru consistently ranks last in elementary school education. All those Peruvian children must be genetically predisposed to abysmal school performance.

  12. January 23, 2008 2:55 pm

    Thanks for linking to Malcolm Gladwell on your blog, CanvasGrey!

    This article was really interesting. And seeing him on that comedy news broadcast, the Colbert Report, was too funny!

  13. Andrew E. Smyth permalink
    May 17, 2008 11:41 am

    Genes are responsible for intelligence and the increase in intelligence in the hominid line over the last million years.
    The frequency of genes that can differ between siblings can also vary on average between races.
    Given these two axioms the possibility of a (partial) genetic explanation for the IQ gap cannot be dismissed.
    The case is clearer when comparing Northeast Asians to whites where the discrimination factor can be ignored (because the higher scoring Asians also suffered the most discrimination).
    How does one explain the IQ’s of Korean babies adopted in Europe who now outscore their European siblings by 7 IQ points?

  14. May 17, 2008 4:28 pm

    Andrew E. Smyth, thanks for commenting on this post. It is about the achievement gap, not intelligence gap, though. I agree that intelligence can be found in genes. But there are many other things besides intelligence that factor into (translate into?) achievement. Maybe I didn’t define my terms well to being with.

  15. Andrew E Smyth permalink
    May 18, 2008 2:50 am

    Genes must affect IQ, IQ must affect behavior, and IQ mediated behavior must vary between individuals. Unless these three ideas are true natural selection would not work, ie it would have nothing to select from.
    Other genes that influence skin color, height, sprinting speed, and long distance running seem to show a different distribution between different racial groups.
    This being the case all I am asking is that it be conceded that, “Maybe, just maybe some of the achievement gap is caused by genes.” We should not make this area of inquiry so “beyond the Pale” that it may not even be hinted at in a serious discussion. It is the elephant sitting in the corner everyone pretends not to see.

  16. May 19, 2008 11:09 am

    “You will be free to let go of your unhappiness the moment you recognize it as unintelligent. Negativity is not intelligent. It is always of the ego. The ego may be clever, but it is not intelligent. Cleverness pursues its own little aims. Intelligence sees the larger whole in which all things are connected. Cleverness is motivated by self-interest, and it is extremely short-sighted. Most politicians and businesspeople are clever. Very few are intelligent. Whatever is attained through cleverness is short-lived and always turns out to be eventually self-defeating. Cleverness divides; intelligence includes.” (p 112 The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle)

    This passage fits well into this discussion. Yes, I can concede that some of the achievement gap is caused by genes. However I fail to see the importance of that in the long run, and I don’t think that “white people” are more intelligent than “people of color.”

  17. Ben R permalink
    November 29, 2008 10:41 pm

    The achievement gap is linked to the IQ gap. See the Dreary study discussed on Gene Expression:

    “Deary took the analysis a step further however and did a little latent variable modeling. As the IQ test had three components/subtests (verbal, nonverbal, quantitative), he correlated a latent g factor with a latent academic factor using the following subtests: English, English Literature, Math, Science, Geography, French (n=12519). The correlation between the latent factors was .81. That is: 66% of the variance in latent (general) academic achievement can be explained by latent cognitive ability—measured 5 years previously. While he hypothesizes that such things as “school ethos” and “parental support” are good areas to search for the other 34%, based on Rohode’s work, it is likely going to be found in residual, first order factors (see Carroll or McGrew).

    Take home message: While general cognitive ability and academic achievement are not isomorphic, the former is necessary for the latter, while the converse is not necessarily true. Spearman suggested this more than a century ago, and, to quote the last sentence in Deary’s work – These data establish the validity of g for this important life outcome.”

  18. Joe permalink
    June 18, 2010 6:14 am

    Explanations concluding that IQ is not heavily dependent on genetics are logically untenable. There really is no controversy for anyone who is not influenced by ideology, delusion, and emotions. Solid un-emotional reasoning very easily leads to heavy (75%+) genetic influence for differences in IQ.

    The brain is an organ and the blueprint for the placement of all the molecules that construct the brain is in the genetic code. In this respect it is no different then a heart, a liver, etc. Variation in the construction of the brain is what determines the range for the IQ of that organism. And there is always variation. These variations fall into normal distribution patterns associated with groupings we call race.

    Without differences in IQ within a species there would be no evolution of the brain. To assume that all genetic groupings with the human species are on the same IQ footing is to contradict evolutionary theory. The achievement gap is simply a snapshot of evolution at work.

  19. erranter permalink
    August 16, 2010 7:18 pm

    The gap is mostly IQ-related and we have to face facts. Experts spend millions trying to figure it out, when, to those of us who understand the nature of general intelligence, it’s clear as day what’s going on. Race is a lot more than just the color of your skin. Some Caucasians are pretty damn dark–but they evolved in an environment far different from those of Africans. This is not meant to offend anyone. But the assumption that we can keep blaming teachers and schooling for the gap is absurd. The best thing we can hope for is not that all groups will one day score equally (we have different abilities, anyway) but that we can get along and all add to society.

    Still, both the black and white IQs have gone up over the years which is a sign of evolution of both groups of people. Also interesting is that American Blacks score amazingly high when compared to their African counterparts. Rather rapidly, the high-tech modern environment has changed them as well as the lower-IQ Europeans who came to America a couple hundred years ago. There is hope that one day, but probably not all that soon, the gap will be bridged. But ignoring science and physical anthropology is not going to help us.

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