Giftedness: The Nature And The Nurture Debate
Parent Circle|September 2016

What do we mean when we use the term ‘gifted’ to refer to a child? Does it mean that the child inherited that spark of brilliance? Or, could the child have developed it over the years through smart parenting methods? Experts from the National Institute of Advanced Studies explain the scientific basis for us, in this exclusive write-up.

Dr Anitha Kurup & Amita Basu

The ‘Nature vs Nurture’ debate has been an eternal one. While the former stresses the influence of genetics and heredity in determining who an individual is, the latter stresses the influence of environmental factors. In order to analyse the effects of nature and nurture on giftedness, we need to understand that they are dynamic and interact with each other in ways that are complex. Every trait, not just giftedness, requires inputs from both genetics and environment. Even behavioural science has shifted away from asking whether nature or nurture determines an outcome.

Biologically, nature and nurture cannot be clearly delinked. Here’s a simple example: the environment we provide for our children depends on our attitude towards parenting and our parenting style – both of which have a strong genetic basis!

GENES VS ENVIRONMENT: THE VARIATION

Behavioural geneticists study variation in traits among individuals by separating genetic and environmental components. In a given population, genetics has a role to play in explaining the differences among people’s IQ scores. In fact, genetics strongly influences the acquisition and exercise of skills and knowledge throughout life. When we consider giftedness, it definitely has a genetic basis. But, does this imply that some families or communities are more gifted than others? Though the polymath, Sir Francis Galton, in his work, Hereditary genius (1869), claimed this was true, his findings were later contested on the ground that his research was purely correlational (links between variables) based on observing associations and making causal inferences.

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