Newsweek’s Sharon Begley is a one-woman wrecking crew. Maybe you read her crushing attack on bad evolutionary psychology?
Now she’s telling us about a new finding that high school kids get better grades if they are physically attractive (girls), well groomed (boys especially) or have an “attractive” personality (girls). Note to my lefties: sex and class bias are almost certainly in play here.
Here’s the paper, which I need to dip into at some point.
Begley says the beauty bonus is well known. The other findings are new. One explanation might be that “attractive” kids get more positive feedback from a young age, which makes them better learners. Keep that point firmly in mind.
In Begley’s uppercut, she notes that some researchers (this guy) are still hoping to link individual genes to IQ.
When scientists link a gene to a trait, they seldom know exactly what the heck the gene actually does. So let’s say they link gene X to IQ. Based on what’s known about the beauty premium, and now on how personality can boost kids’ GPA through mechanisms unrelated to actual brainpower, what if gene X is in fact producing a shapelier nose, or prettier eyes, or a sunny personality, and not, for instance, making synapses denser or brain neurons more efficient or causing some other effect that increases intelligence? How much do you want to bet that it will be hailed as a true IQ gene with all that entails (discrimination against those who have the wrong form being the most obvious), when in fact all it does is give people traits that society chooses to reward with (unmerited) higher grades and the resulting greater success in the work force?
In behavioral psychology, researchers like to compare traits of twins raised in the same home versus twins raised in separate homes to try to assess the “heritability” of traits such as IQ. In other words, if you hold the environment constant (as much as possible) and still see variation in a trait, you can attribute more of that variation to genetic factors, as expressed in the shared environment. Or that’s my understanding, anyway.
Begley’s point is that maybe the genes underlying the heritability of IQ are ones that give you, say, pretty eyes that make teachers pay more attention to you.
I think Malcolm Gladwell just wrote a book about this kind of thing.
See also: Newsweek | The Gene Puzzle