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Idknown's avatar

Is intelligence a product of Nature or Nurture?

Asked by Idknown (1118points) March 29th, 2010

The classic discussion. My girlfriend was showing me some of her friends and she said: She’s smart, she goes to MIT. Her brother’s smart too, goes to Yale.

So – I didn’t go to an Ivy – had the smarts, but not the $$$. So I accept where I start on the ladder. But now, I’m wondering – would we all be in greater heights had we had the money to afford private tutors, private schools, and then private colleges?

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23 Answers

davidbetterman's avatar

Yes. Intelligence is a product of both Nature and Nurture…

It would seem that private schools and private teachers might be a slight edge to public schooling, but really you should define what you men by “would we all be in greater heights…”

dpworkin's avatar

There is a substantive genetic component, but as always, interaction counts. I’m not sure about Ivy League schools, but certainly early childhood events have a distinct effect upon intelligence. Most studies do an ANOVA that shows that there is about a 50% main effect from both genetics and shared/unshared environment. The confounder is defining intelligence.

nikipedia's avatar

I think most scientists would tell you that asking if something is nature or nurture misses the point. Nature and nurture interact to profoundly alter one another’s influences. For the classic example of this, see epigenetics.

For what it’s worth I know plenty of wholly unremarkable people who went to Ivy League schools. And some of the smartest people I’ve met went to public school. (Take our good friend @dpworkin, for example!)

dpworkin's avatar

@nikipedia GA. You said it much better than I did.

Edit: Aww, shucks.

DarkScribe's avatar

Mostly nature – nurture determines how intellect is used – gives confidence etc. Nurture cannot create or increase IQ to any significant level, but it can ensure that it used effectively. Attend a few MENSA meetings and look at the disparity in lifestyle and academic/career success among people with similar IQ levels. That will show how effective nurture can be,

lilikoi's avatar

Intelligence is genetic. Nature.

Considering that success greatly hinges on who you know, rather than what, intelligence can only get you so far by itself. Just look at some politicians and/or their appointees closely, and you’ll see what I mean.

TheOnlyException's avatar

Intelligence is a product of BOTH nature and nurture. But in my opinion nurture is more important, although it is shown that intelligence is genetic.
I am not saying that every successful, intelligent person went to a private school and Ivy League college but encouraging someone with the smarts to go places, to make the right choices in life and providing them with the opportunities and means to get there will serve to improve them intellectually.
Basically if there were a prodigy somewhere being brought up in an abusive home/bad area, just not a very good lifestyle, it is unlikely their intelligence would grow as no one is around to encourage them to use it and they may end up in trouble or worse.
You said that you have the intelligence to get into an Ivy League school but not the money, this is entirely true for many people like you, it does NOT mean you are any less intelligent than someone who COULD afford to go Ivy League, of course not! People do tend to jump to conclusions about how smart some people are by which school they go to, it is really very annoying and short sighted, but understandable.

Everyone with intelligence has the capacity to do well regardless of their situation/school they attend, but I suppose it just takes more effort if you don’t get the right ‘nurturing’.
Whatever college you go to you should be able to do well in life, no question about that, as you seem like you have a good head on your shoulders and as long as you are prepared to do the work, you’ll go far.
People should not be stereotyped by their colleges.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Intelligence is directly relevant to one’s ability to embrace image/object associations. In other words, languageeven if it’s only in the mind, and not outwardly expressed.

davidbetterman's avatar

Intelligence as we know it seems only your ability to assimilate new ideas and then use them in your daily life. Some people are born slow. Others are born quick.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

There are so many different ways to define “intelligence” besides “smart” that I don’t know how to answer your question.

I work with engineers every day who can’t write a complete and comprehensible sentence to save their lives. I have also met literary geniuses who can’t tighten a nut on a bolt. Look at a short list of the types of markers we have for ‘noticing’ intelligence in others:
reading and writing
logical reasoning
map reading
mechanical aptitude
management and planning
woodcraft (that is, ability to survive and thrive in nature—or we could call it ‘native’ or ‘animal’ intelligence)

These are just the ones that occur to me off the top of my head. Don’t try to pigeonhole people as “intelligent” or “not intelligent” until you’ve really exhausted all of the possibilities for them to display it. (The engineers I work with are brilliant, really. The most literate of my friends are also geniuses in their way, too. If I needed literary criticism I’d go to them, but when I have a question about my car or home furnace I talk to my engineer buds.)

MissAnthrope's avatar

It’s a product of both. Nature gives you the inherent ability to make connections, retain information, apply that information forward to other situations, to reason, etc. But if you sat on your ass all day and watched TV, you would be squandering your gift. It’s like gardening.. the seed is planted, but it’s up to you to cultivate the plant.

To me, going to private schools and Ivy League universities can definitely give a person a leg up intellectually, but only if the capacity for intellect is there in the first place. I mean, look at Dubyah.. his family is rich as hell, he went to the best schools, and he’s still a babbling idiot. It’s perfectly possible to cultivate one’s intelligence without much money.. the library is an excellent start.

thriftymaid's avatar

The argument used to be strictly nature. But today it is thought we are born with a certain amount of intelligent, but it can be increased with knowledge. I haven’t read enough lately to strongly agree or disagree with that.

Kraigmo's avatar

Unless someone is mentally handicapped…. intelligence is a choice made by choosing to observe information and situations.

Lazy people just resort to ego,authority, or thoughtlessness, resulting in stupidity.

Trillian's avatar

One is born with a potential, but environmental factors such as low-income, poor diet, dysfunctional family dynamics can prevent that potential from being reached.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I agree with everything you said. That’s why there are so many different forms of language. They allow each skill set to embrace the individual concept. Everything you mentioned is dependent upon language skills.

reading and writing – literacy
logical reasoning – if and only if truth statements
mathematics – a precisely descriptive language tool
map reading – image object association
drawing – thought represented as symbol
empathy – via discussion and understanding
mechanical aptitude – predicting a future outcome, codification
inventiveness – every invention has a set of plans
synthesis – manipulation and recombination of structure, like letters in an alphabet
management and planning – enforcement and direction with codified instruction

I work as a freelancer for the Cognitive Studies department of a major university. There are no less than 70 separate language tests that are administered to determine a subjects cognitive awareness. Language comes in many different forms. A single line drawn in the sand can represent any concept that a human can think up. Intelligence is gifted to those who understand that the line is not the object. The line only represents the object. It is an image of the object. Intelligence is directly scalable to the ability of embracing image/object associations.

If I wish to be intelligent in mathematics, then I do well to learn the language of math.

If I wish to be intelligent in biology, then I do well to learn the language of biology.

You get the idea… It could be anything from ice cream to cosmology. They all have their specific languages that operate above and beyond the common lexicon. IQ tests remove the specific language, and test the subject specifically on their ability to fulfill an object to wholeness with a concrete image that makes the object whole. In this case, a thought is the object. We illustrate their wholeness or brokenness with images of them.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Idknown “I’m wondering – would we all be in greater heights had we had the money to afford private tutors…”

Every book you read is a private tutor. Every instruction manual is a private tutor. Every road sign is a private tutor. Every TV ad is a private tutor. Every newspaper article, and every poem. Every child’s essay is a private tutor. Every code is a private tutor. Code is the only mechanism that allows the thoughts from one mind to be accessed by the mind of another.

We must be careful with our choices of tutors. We cannot help but learn and therefor be influenced by them.

SeventhSense's avatar

I tend to lean towards Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences and I think this illustrates our error in assigning Mathematical and Scientific reasoning to be the sole basis of intelligence in the past.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


Interesting link. From the front page, I have no issues with it at all. Kind of like it actually. It still supports my original claim about language ability. Everything on his list requires embracing codified description for its core principle. Without image/object association, none of Gardener’s categories would be possible.

SeventhSense's avatar

Don’t you think that language is essentially innate though?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Absolutely, and directly scalable to a beings intelligence. The bee has a certain degree of intelligence specifically related to his ability to dance the figure 8 waggle. He can communicate direction, wind drift, quality of pollen, distance, and an optimum route all with the figure 8 dance. Adding a new step will be like adding a new word or sentence. This would also add to his intelligence.

A child who claims the Sun is big, round & yellow has a certain degree of intelligence about the Sun. But a cosmologist will have an entire lexicon of terminology and mathematical description tools at her disposal. She is therefor capable of being more intelligent about the Sun that the child.

kphilipk's avatar

David Shenk just published a book on exactly this topic called the Genius in All of Us—I haven’t read it yet but from reading his blog ( and reviews of the book (and of course from the title of the book), he believes—and cites research to back it up—that we all have the potential for greatness.

mattbrowne's avatar

A combination of both.

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