Genetics and the Environment's Influence on Intelligence

Essay, 2014

6 Pages, Grade: A



The influence of both genetic and environmental contributions to intelligence has been widely investigated by different sociologists and psychologists. Their conclusions reveal that intelligence is the product of heredity and the environment (Mangal, 1998). This is shown in various empirical investigations. This essay will therefore, discuss the research supporting the influence of both genetic and environmental contributions to intelligence.

The educational implications from this discourse will also be discussed. Kundu and Tutoo (1998: 294) state that intelligence is, "the capacity for solving practical problems of life, it is not just intellectual activities of perceiving, thinking, remembering and observing. It is the ability to put intellect to use". We can thus deduce that, the nature and nuture of inteligence is influenced by both genetic and environmental contributions.

Intelligence is genetic and manifests itself in many forms. These include: Verbal Linguistics intelligence, which is good reading and writing skill; Bodily Kinesthetic intelligence, which is psychomotor skills like sports and dancing; Logical Methamatical intelligence, which is logical, abstractive, deductive and inductive reasoning; Naturalistic intelligence, which is sensitivity to nature and its welfare; Intrapersonal intelligence, which is perfectionism. Most people with this form of intelligence make good theologians and philosophers; Spartial intelligence, which is, good visual memory and spatial memory and the last form to highlight is, Musical intelligence, which is good rythm and music skills (Mwambwa, 2011). These are determined and stiffled or nutured by the influence of both genetic and environmental contributions respectively. Genetics is the study of genes that harbour inherited characteristics (Farrant, 1980). Caharcteristics such as, intelligence are resident in genes. Intelligence may be seen as a person's genetic ability to comprehend and apply cognitive capabilities to environmental or life's situations. Artkinson (1983:156-157) claims that, “a child may have an ability to walk in the sense that his muscles have now reached the required strength; he has a good sense of balance and so forth. But if he is not faced with an example of walking, he might not learn to do it”. So genetic charcteristics are influenced by the environment.

Mwambwa (2011) also suggests that, " intelligence is the ability to learn about, learn from, understand, and interact with one's environment". This is certainly a fact, because the things that a child will learn in his lifetime will depend on his genetic traits which are developed in interaction with the environment. Nevertheless, the experiences in the environment cannot change the nature of intelligence, it can alter only its field and scope. Vertically it remains the same. Horizontally it changes. The environment provides opportunities for the development of intelligence that genetics dictates.

Genetic influences are hereditary as seen in traits such as, different forms and levels of intelligence inherited from parents. The environment is the physical and social surrounding in which people abide. A person's genetic capabilities are realised in interaction with the environment, so intellectual development is limited, but not completely defined by genotype (Artkinson, 1983). It is clear that a person's genetics determine their intelligence, but the environment provides the opportunity and or limitation for development and so both play a complementary role in contributing to intelligence. For example, a person might inherit the genes of a genius, but how much of a genius they will become will depend on environmental factors such as: nutrition and health (Kraus, 2012). Genetics determines the inherent aspects of intelligence, while the environment influences its development.

A high socioeconomic environment will provide the necessary intellectual stimulation to unlock genetic potentials and increase the likelihood of high intellectual performance, on the other hand a low socioeconomic environment is impoverished and lacks the necessary stimuli for unlocking genetic potentials (Kraus, 2012) . This would be evident in the different intellectual capabilities that identical twins may exhibit if they were raised in two different socioeconomic conditions. The one from a high socioeconomic environment will most likely exhibit high intellectual capabilities as compared to the one from a low socioeconomic environment (Mwamwenda, 1995).

Mwamwenda (1992:281) further asserts that, "heredity sets the potential, while environment determines the extent to which it is fulfilled". Intelligence can surely be seen as hereditary while, the environment influences how far and wide it will develop or fail.

The environment will determine whether a person will live up to their genetic inteligence or not. Derville (1966:117) supports this and claims that:

Heredity refers to the characteristcs which the child inherits from the parents. The Environment means the surrounding; it includes not only the place in which the child lives, but also the people with whom he comes in contact. The environment cannot alter the limits imposed by heredity. A good environment will enable the individual to reach these limits. A poor one will prevent him from doing so.

Therefore, genetics determines the level of intelligence. The nuturing of it is facilitated by the environment, which includes: the physical surrounding such as materials, and the people with whom they interact.

In relating this discourse to education, we can draw a number of implications:

The first implication is that, the background of learners have an effect on their learning and must be considered in teaching and learning. For example, a child from an undernourished home will perform below their real potential (Blarkwell, 2001). Educators must thus apply strategies that will enhance learners' effective learning by considering their diverse backgrounds.

The second implication is that, transmissional teaching in which the teacher takes centre stage and allows little of the learners' input and participation must not be encouraged as it deprives learners of the opportunity to develop their intellect. Teachers must employ reciprical learning.


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Genetics and the Environment's Influence on Intelligence
University of Zambia  (Technical and vocational Teachers' college)
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genetics, environment, influence, intelligence
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John Kombe (Author), 2014, Genetics and the Environment's Influence on Intelligence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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