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The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ Paperback – March 8, 2011
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Louann Brizendine, M.D.,author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain, is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the National Board of Medical Examiners, and is clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. She is founder and director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic and the Teen Girl Mood and Hormone Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, she completed an internship in medicine and neurology at Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a residency in psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Harvard Medical School. She sits on the boards of many prestigious peer reviewed journals and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. Read Brizendine's guest review of The Genius In All of Us:
In The Genius in All of Us Shenk beautifully explains why the nature-nurture debate is dead. It is not just the genes we are born with, but how we are raised and what opportunities are open to us that determine how smart we will become. Nurture and experience reshape our genes, and thus our brain. Shenk argues that the idea we are either born with genius or talent, or we aren’t, is simply untrue. The notion that relentless, deliberate practice changes the brain and thus our abilities has been undervalued over the past 30 years in favor of the concept of “innate giftedness.” Practice, practice, practice (some say 10,000 hours or more) is what it takes. Shenk argues that it is just some fantasy that effortless, gifted genius is born and not made. He marshals evidence to show that genetic factors do not trump environmental factors but rather work in concert with them. Shenk notes that by the sweat of our brow we can train ourselves to be successful--even if we are born with only average genetic talent. Scientists know that how we are raised and how we are trained affects the expression of our genes. If you think you’ve reached your talent limit, think again, Shenk says. It’s not just in your genes, he says, but in the intensity of your motivation. Ambition, persistence, and self-discipline are not just products of genes, but can be shaped by nurture and environment. Certainly it is important to have good genes, but that determines at most only 50 percent of your talent. He underscores the point that intelligence is made up of the skills that a person has developed--with an emphasis on “developed”--through hard work. Encouraging ourselves and our children to work hard requires being surrounded by others also wanting to achieve striving for excellence. Moreover, Shenk gives the hopeful message not just for kids, but also for adults. Happily for us, the human brain remains plastic, changeable and trainable well into old age. So no matter how old you are, if you’d like to be smarter--get to work! --Louann Brizendine
A Q&A with David Shenk
David Shenk: It is a bold statement, and it reflects how poorly the public has been served when it comes to understanding the relationship between biology and ability. The clichés we’ve been taught about genetic blueprints, IQ, and "giftedness" all come out of crude, early-20th century guesswork. The reality is so much more interesting and complex. Genes do have a powerful influence on everything we do, but they respond to their environments in all sorts of interesting ways. We’ve now learned a lot more about the developmental mechanisms that enable people to get really good at stuff. Intelligence and talent turn out to be about process, not about whether you were born with certain "gifts."
Question: In The Genius in All of Us you state that the concept of nature versus nurture is over. Scientists, cognitive psychologists, and geneticists are moving towards an idea of ‘interactionism.' What does this mean? If the battle of genes versus environment is over, who has won? Which is more important?
David Shenk: They both won, because they're both vitally important. But the new science shows us that they do not act separately. Declaring that a person gets X-percent of his/her intelligence from genes and Y-percent from the environment is like saying that X-percent of Shakespeare's greatness can be found in his verbs, and Y-percent in his adjectives. There is no nature vs. nurture, or nature plus nurture; instead, it's nature interacting with nurture, which is often expressed by scientists as "GxE" (genes times intelligence). This is what "interactionism" refers to. A vanguard of geneticists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have stepped forward in recent years to articulate the importance of the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.
Question: You describe genes and environment as a sound board. How so?
David Shenk: In the past, we’ve been taught that each distinct gene contains a certain dossier of information, which in turn determines a certain trait; if you have the blue-eyed gene, you get blue eyes. Period.
It turns out, though, that the information contained inside genes is only part of the story; another critical part is how often genes get "expressed," or turned on, by other genes and by outside forces. It’s therefore helpful to think of your genome as a giant mixing board with thousands of knobs and switches. Genes are always getting turned on/off/up/down by hormones, nutrients, etc. People actually affect their own genome’s behavior with their actions.
Question: How do these new findings affect the concept of the "The Bell Curve"--that we live in an increasingly stratified world where the "cognitive elite," those with the best genes, are more and more isolated from the cognitive/genetic underclass? Is that idea now completely obsolete?
David Shenk: Yes, it is obsolete. The idea that there is a genetic super-class that has a corner on high-IQ genes is nonsense. This comes out of a profound misunderstanding of how genes work and how intelligence works, and also from a misreading of so-called "heritability" studies. I am not saying that genes don’t affect intelligence. Genes affect everything. But by and large I think the evidence shows that people with low intelligence are missing out on key developmental advantages.
Question: Lewis Terman invented the IQ test at Stanford University in 1916. He declared it the ideal tool to determine a person’s native intelligence. Are IQ tests accurate? What are the benefits and fallout of the IQ test?
David Shenk: IQ tests accurately rank academic achievement. That’s quite different from identifying innate intelligence, which doesn’t really exist. Tufts intelligence expert Robert Sternberg explains that "intelligence represents a set of competencies in development." In other words, intelligence isn’t fixed. Intelligence isn’t general. Intelligence is not a thing. Instead, intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process.
The IQ test has valid uses. It can help teachers and principals understand how well students are doing and what they’re missing. But the widespread belief that it defines what each of us are capable of (and limited to) is disabling for individuals and society. People simply cannot reach their full potential if they honestly believe that they are so severely restricted.
Question: How do we go about finding the genius in all of us? What steps we can take to unlock latent talent?
David Shenk: Find the thing you love to do, and work and work and work at it. Don't be discouraged by failure; realize that high achievers thrive on failure as a motivating mechanism and as instruction guide on how to get better.
(Photo © Alexandra Beers)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
So writes David Shenk in The Genius in All of Us, and true to his word he is. Shenk's book is not a strictly scientific investigation of intelligence or giftedness, but a personal presentation for the case that intelligence is highly malleable, and that it emerges from the interaction of genes and environment. His case differs from many mainstream representations of intelligence in that he finds environment plays a far greater role than many intelligence theorists acknowledge. Intelligence, states Shenk, is a process, more so than a discrete entity which sits in the physical structure of the brain. He writes:
"...intelligence isn't fixed. Intelligence isn't general. Intelligence is not a thing. Intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse and ongoing process." (p.42)
So, David Shenk does not even attempt to be even-handed, and barely addresses the criticisms to the interactionist position. Some readers won't like the book for that reason.
I had no problem with reading the book. There is no law which says that a non-fiction book has to take a critical approach to its own thesis. If you are looking for a look at the arguments from multiple perspectives, this is not the book for you. You might instead try Howard Gardner's Intelligence: Multiple Perspectives, or Ken Richardson's brilliant little book, The Making of Intelligence (though both books largely comply with Shenk's position). These are very readable and concise volumes.Read more ›
1. MISUNDERSTANDING HERITABILITY
In the first chapter of The Genius in All of Us David Shenk writes that Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein (henceforth, M&H), the authors of The Bell Curve, "fundamentally misinterpreted a number of studies, becoming convinced that roughly 60 percent of each person's intelligence comes directly from his or her genes." For at least two reasons, this claim is not a very auspicious start for a book that purports to challenge the vast research literature showing that genetic differences are important determinants of success. Firstly, no such claim is made anywhere in The Bell Curve. On the contrary, M&H write (p. 106) that "heritability describes something about a population of people, not an individual. It makes no more sense to talk about the heritability of an individual's IQ than it does to talk about his birthrate." Secondly, the fact that Shenk nevertheless thinks that M&H's thesis is that "60 percent of each person's intelligence comes directly from genes" indicates that Shenk does not understand what it means to say, as M&H do, that the HERITABILITY of a trait is such and such.
Heritability is a measure of the extent that DIFFERENCES among individuals have genetic causes, not a measure of the extent that genes have contributed to any individual's ontogenic development.Read more ›
This sounds at first like a liberal political statement, but Shenk's treatment is far more nuanced than that characterization would imply.
In brief, Shenk's book is a very good deconstruction of hereditary talent, a competent but one-sided (or upon reflection I'll say very selectively focused) review of supporting research in several fields, and an interesting but abbreviated practical introduction to the interactionist (gene X environment) paradigm of development.
Just to be clear, this book is not about the psychometric definition of genius in terms of how far down the bell curve one is on Raven's Progressive Matrices or standardized tests of any sort. Nor is it about clever calculating tricks or precocious abilities, although it does do a very nice job putting those into a larger perspective. This book is more centrally about the expansive and inclusive sense of genius meaning people that accomplish something truly special and significant, and the potential that any given person may be able to get to that point. Somehow. And that's where the nuance is needed and appropriate.
Ok, I didn't like this book all that much when I first read it, and I at first gave it a mediocre 3 star rating on Amazon. I felt it did a great job deconstructing the concept of hereditary talent, but I strongly criticized it for leaving a gap where we need a better theory of where talent comes from and what it is, since obviously we don't all become true geniuses.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I want everyone to read this book. I wish it was longer. David Shenk absolutely NAILS the research in a very easy to read way. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Scott A. Miller
You may think you know pretty much about parenting... until you read this book.Published 4 months ago by MarcusF
For full disclosure, I started to read this book, but I just couldn't will myself to finish it. Actually, I did a cost benefit analysis and realized that the time required to read... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Harry M. Shin
Dear Mr. Shenk,
Thank you for your awesome book.
I was one of the people who believed that talent was mostly genetic. Read more
Fantastic book! I checked this book out from the library and found it to be such a monumental book that I had to buy my own copy. Read morePublished 19 months ago by joeshmow