Is Intelligence Genetic Or Environmental?

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University Psychology By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Psychology » University Psychology
Last updated: 23/08/2017
Tags: environment, genetics, intelligence, teachers

Is intelligence determined at birth or influenced by environmental factors throughout life span? Hattie (2009) is widely known for his 800 meta-analysis over 20 years relating to educational achievement supporting both a biological and environmental model.

Firstly, Hattie is quick to highlight that the student’s predisposition accounts for 50% of the variance of achievement therefore suggesting that genetic heritability is a vital factor in predicting intelligence. Furthermore, a child with high cognitive ability will see a steeper arc of learning throughout their lifespan than a child with less ability; this is regardless of their environmental situation (Hattie, 2009). In fact, Hattie argued that effect size for prior cognitive ability is 1.04 thus 2 and a half times the average effect. Students' disposition to learning had the exact same effect, size suggesting a biological model plays a vital role within intelligence. The physical attribute of a student (effect size .21) had little impact in variance of achievement (Hattie, 2013).

Hattie further depicted that the other 50% of variance was explained by different environmental factors. The child's home relating to their expectation and encouragement only accounted for 5-10% of the variance. Furthermore, parent involvement had an effect size of .46 in which was desirable but not a key influential factor. It was suggested that children learn better from their peers than from teachers or books (Hattie, 2009). Additionally, whether a child makes a friend in their first few weeks in school can have a key effect on achievement; although, peer influence still only accounted for 5-10% of variance (Hattie, 2009). Interestingly, attributes of schools such as size of class, buildings, and finances only accounted for 5-10% of variance too. It is important to note, that although the environmental factors aforementioned only account for a small percentage of the variance, combined they are key in developing a child's achievement, thus playing an important role in intelligence. 

Interestingly, teachers were vital in determining academic achievement within children accounting for 30% of the variance (Hattie, 2012). The major dimensions for excellent teachers were whether they could identify essential representations of their subject; have effective interactions; monitor and provide feedback; influence outcomes and able to attend to affective attributes (Hattie, 2012). In fact, feedback was considered very important in improving intelligence with an effect size 3 times the average (1.13) (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). This highly supports the notion that intelligence can be influenced by their environment. Furthermore, effect sizes were high for a number of factors relating to teacher effectiveness: instruction quality (1.00); direct instruction (.82) class environment (.56); challenge of goals (.52) and teacher style (.42) (Hattie, 2009). This portrays that expert teachers can deliver lessons in which the child's learning is deep and semantic thus encouraging development of intelligence (Hattie & Jaeger, 2003).

To conclude, Hattie's work was effective in exploring both the biological and environmental factors for a child's academic development (Hattie, 2013). It is clear that whilst 50% of variance can be explained by genetic heritability, the environment still plays an equal role in determining intelligence.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.
Hattie, J. A. C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research77(1), 81-112.
Hattie, J., & Yates, G. C. (2013). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. Routledge.


Kate Lake A-level Psychology Tutor (Sutton)

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