Michigan Professor Speaks at Rockefeller University on Improving Children’s IQ
An overflow crowd of eager parents and educators filled the auditorium at Rockefeller University to hear Richard E. Nesbitt, Ph.D., share his latest findings on “Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Culture Count.” A psychologist and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Nesbitt is determined to reverse the commonly held but controversial view, put forth by Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein in their 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” that IQ Is determined by genes. Countering “hereditarism” with the new “environmentalism,” Nesbitt presented evidence that nonhereditary factors, such as education, parenting, culture, and a range of interventions play a huge role in determining a child’s IQ. Acknowledging that genetics have some influence, he explained that much can be done to modify and raise intelligence scores. Environmental factors are numerous. While a large gap exists between white- and African-American student scores, the difference is shrinking as schools do a better job of teaching. The oft-cited abilities of Asian and Jewish students can be attributed to cultures that emphasize hard work and achievement. And, studies of twins separated by adoption but exhibiting similar IQs can be linked to the general similarity of adoptive homes--affluent and stimulating.
Schools make “a massive contribution to IQ,” he explained, and kindergarten and first grade are crucial. While research shows that religious and charter schools (with some exceptions) and teachers with higher degrees do not affect student outcomes, experienced teachers and the quality of their instruction and interactions, as well as class size, make a huge difference. One year of early classroom instruction equals two years of IQ growth, advised Nesbitt, casting doubt on the advisability of holding children back from starting school. Other environmental factors affecting development of intelligence include family moves, summer break, socioeconomic status, and stress. Nesbitt found that intellectual skills dropped for lower-class students during the summer but often increased for middle and upper class children, which he attributed to stimulating summer activities. Parental socialization of children, such as reading and talking to them, affect IQ. By age three, middle class youngsters have heard 30 million words while their lower class peers have been exposed to 20 million words. Some computer programs help improve memory, but most computer games have not been shown to improve intelligence.
Citing the great gap between socioeconomic classes in this country and the “toxic” and “handicapping” affects of poor environments, Nesbitt suggested policy implications of his findings include enriching programs for the poor and providing “the very best education for the neediest” starting form birth through ninth grade. Pre-K programs that include intellectual material and elementary school interventions have proven successful in improving skills. Involving parents in a child’s education is recommended. Nesbitt said research has yet to be done on whether enrichment scales up but, he declares, “Some programs have proven to be highly effective” and, “If we don’t know all the answers, it’s worth trying to find out.”
Dr. Nesbitt’s talk was part of a free series presented by Rockefeller University’s Parents & Science initiative, a program designed to help parents “understand science as it affects children’s health and well-being.” For more information, visit www.rockefeller.edu/parentsandscience.#