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Environment or Genetics contributes to Giftedness?

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: What causes a child to be gifted? Is it their environment or is it genetics?

A: This has been a long debated topic with much disagreement on either per se. Today, most of us agree that it is a combination of both, yet to what extent of each and whether each contributes equally or one is more dominant than the other. Therefore, with regards to the role of environment and genetics in the development of giftedness, the picture that emerges is rather complex. Studies after studies have shown varied findings, often one more dominant than the other.

I believe that regardless of the environment, superior skills can be manifested by children anywhere. In some cases, extreme giftedness can be noted despite environmental and personality characteristics that would have been expected to inhibit its expression. On the other hand, in other cases (and more likely ones) we note examples of supportive environments both intellectually and emotionally, which appears to play a vital role in the development and nurturance of general and special skills. However, in the long run, it does appear quite clearly that later outcomes especially in terms of fulfilling a gifted potential, these are related to life events such as family environment, school support and personality style.

Nature (genetics) relates to the genetic heritage of an individual. Nurture (environment) relates to the environmental influences on the individual. It has been suggested that the heritability of general cognitive ability is approximately 62% and the rest is made up of the environment one grows up in. However, the gene-environment dynamic is not one in which each has a distinct but separate role to play, nor that environment determines whether a gene does or does not exert the influence on ability. Rather, the function of the genetic system is itself context dependent; therefore, generally both are necessary for cognitive ability to develop.


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