Posted on December 2, 2011

What is the Role of the Family?

Glayde Whitney, American Renaissance, May 1998

Although the major media and those who formulate government policy have yet to acknowledge it, family environment does not determine intelligence or personality. For a society imbued with the egalitarian myth, it is unacceptable that important individual and group differences should have genetic origins. But even if family environment has little effect on individual traits, it can play a crucial role in instilling the values and expectations that determine the fortunes of the group. A child’s abilities and personality are largely established at birth, but the focus of his most important loyalties appear to be formed within the family. The traits and prospects for survival of the individual are generally impervious to upbringing; those of the group are not.

The Limits of Family Influence by David C. Rowe

As for the question of what the family cannot achieve, David Rowe introduces the dilemma in his 1994 book, The Limits of Family Influence:

Most people believe that different rearing experiences have something to do with differences in the way children turn out. Parents who want bright children are told to read to them, and encouraged to take them to the library . . . Parents are warned to be affectionate lest a child become worried and anxious [and develop low self-esteem] . . . In our cultural beliefs, the idea that family experiences mold a child’s life course is strongly endorsed — that is, ‘As the twig is bent, the tree grows.’ A social scientist opposing this cultural belief would be dismissed as uninformed and possibly dangerous. In response, many people would recount stories from their own lives. Social scientists would mention the massive research literature showing influences of rearing on behavioral development. Nonetheless, many societies once accepted a flat earth; both experts and cultural beliefs, on some occasions, may be wrong. (p. 1.)

The most recent and best scientific evidence shows that the whole gamut of environmental factors that vary among families — social class, income, quality of schools, parenting style, two or single parents (the list is endless) — have very little effect on a child’s personality or intelligence or whether he develops mental illness. Generations of social scientists who put the emphasis on family environment are plain wrong. In fact, the failure to pay attention to genetic influences has resulted in the colossal misinterpretation of a century’s worth of research.

It is easy to see where common observation might lead people astray. Bright parents, who spend time talking with their children, tend to have brighter children than do dumb parents who ignore their children. Crazy people who live chaotic lives tend to have children who grow up to be crazy. It seems obvious to all that the experiences of children in their families determine developmental outcomes.

Nevertheless, Shakespeare, Darwin, and even the ancient Greeks knew that particular forms of insanity tended to be inherited and that intelligence was a family trait that is also sometimes inherited. Indeed, Sir Francis Galton, who was the first modern scientist to attempt precisely to gauge the importance of heredity versus family environment, worried that his findings might be disbelieved because they seemed to prove too much; he himself was surprised that family experience seemed to account for so little.

Galton’s 19th century discoveries have largely been rejected by mainstream 20th century social and psychological science, but not because of better evidence. Rejection has been mainly for theoretical and ideological reasons. Liberalism abhors inequality, especially genetic inequality. It views inherited diversity as evil, and it did not take Hitler to make it so. The egalitarian movement antedated National Socialism; Hitler has just made it easier to demonize the truth. Ambitious social engineers hate genetic differences because they mean that social reform cannot remake mankind.

Once hereditary differences were ruled out, research could be done on the correlations of family traits with child outcomes, with the assurance that differences in family environments were always the cause. Many thousands of studies have been done, leading to one of the best-established generalizations of modern science: most traits tend to run in families.

Another well-established generalization is that individual differences tend to be stable across the lifespan. Mentally retarded adults were often developmentally disabled when children; timid children tend to become shy adults. This gave rise to one of the central tenets of environmental determinism and egalitarianism, namely that early experiences must be crucially important. Who has not heard that vital, formative experiences occur before age six? As intervention programs like Head Start continue to fail, the cutoff age for formative experience just gets pushed further back. Government social engineers start muttering that they could solve all of society’s problems if only they could get their hands on your children before age two.

Debunking the Myths

One of the first scientific studies of recent times to debunk the egalitarian myth was an investigation of schizophrenia, which is well known to run in families. Although the incidence in the general population is about one percent, the incidence among the children of schizophrenics is about 10 to 15 percent. Therefore, most children of schizophrenics — indeed about 90 percent of them — do not become schizophrenic, and most schizophrenics do not have a schizophrenic parent. Nevertheless, the incidence among children of schizophrenics is fully 10 to 15 times higher than in the general population.

Given that schizophrenia runs in families, literally thousands of studies were done to discover what rearing patterns caused it, and researchers found that family backgrounds of schizophrenics did tend to be different from those of normals. The environmental determinists came up with theories about “schizophrenogenic mothers,” inconsistent parents, and “icebox moms,” who caused schizophrenia in their children.

Of course, in most human families the parents provide both the rearing environment for children and the genes. Yet more studies of families could never have separated genes from experience as a cause of schizophrenia, because the source of the family environment is the same as the source of the genes.

Len Heston, now at the University of Washington, finally cut through the fog in 1966. He tracked down adults who were the adopted-away children of schizophrenic mothers. Because these people were reared in normal family environments they should be normal — if family environment causes schizophrenia. In an amazing finding reminiscent of Galton’s concern about seeming to prove too much, it turned out that the incidence of schizophrenia is exactly the same, however children are reared. Much additional research has verified Heston’s discovery: Schizophrenia is a genetic condition. The best evidence at the present suggests that being reared by normal parents does not decrease the likelihood of developing schizophrenia, for someone with genes from a schizophrenic.

Contrary to a century of theory in abnormal psychology and psychiatry, there is little or no credible evidence that family environments cause any form of mental illness. Much research on bipolar affective disorder (manic-depression) suggests a similar conclusion: Broadcasting tycoon Ted Turner probably inherited his manic-depression from his suicidal father. Although he may have acquired “Hanoi” Jane Fonda from a flawed adult environment, gene-influenced bad judgment could also be a cause.

The only way to disentangle genes from experience in assessing the causal role of the family is to make it possible for them to vary independently from each other. It is hard to design and carry out studies like this, so most social scientists don’t bother. In the past, there was no reason to, because genetic influences were thought to be evil and could be ruled out in advance anyway.

Studies that separate genes from experience in family influences are mostly adoption and twin research. The modern spate of unwed mothers, broken homes and remarriages also provides material: Lots of families with both full- and half-siblings, who may or may not be raised by a common birth parent. Children with different degrees of relatedness who are reared in the same environment (by people who may not be their biological parents) offer a different angle from which to distinguish the effects of heredity from environment.

Even a single study, well conducted, can provide much information. However, with the power of computers and modern analytical techniques, the results of different studies with different designs can be combined. The data from multiple family types can be analyzed together — like solving simultaneous equations — to test theories that best explain real world data.

When adoption studies were first done in the 1920s and 1930s, the results indicated that both genes and family environment contributed to individual differences in intelligence. These studies contributed to the “open minded” interpretation that both heredity and family environment are important. These early studies were limited, though, by the fact that they compared young adopted children with parents (biological and adoptive) who were already adults.

Further breakthroughs came only in the late 1970s, with the first studies of grown-up adopted children. After puberty, as a child begins to choose his own activities and associates, the correlations between child and adoptive (non-genetic) parent decrease to the point that they are not significantly different from zero. This finding is contrary to the environmentalist expectation of a cumulative effect of family environment. At the same time, as children grow up, the resemblance to the genetic parents who never reared them increases. Likewise, by the time they become adults, the correlations among adopted (non-related) siblings average around zero.

These results hold for intelligence and for the “big five” indices of personality — extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, intellectual openness — as well as measures of mental illness. These findings from adults, that there is no family resemblance among adoptees that are not genetically related, leads to the eye-opening conclusion that all of the commonly observed similarities among family members on such traits are caused by shared genes, not shared family environments.

What Use is the Family?

These studies do not indicate that environment has no effect on intelligence and personality. They show only that the ways that families are different from each other — the differences social scientists thought were so important — have essentially no effect. For intelligence, which is the most intensively studied of all the mental characteristics, by the time people are adults, about 75 percent of the individual differences appear to be due to genetics, perhaps 10 percent may be due to measurement error, and the rest is presumably due to environmental factors we don’t understand. Whatever those factors are, they are almost certainly not family income, social class, or education of the parents, that is to say, the characteristics on which liberalism pins its hopes.

The heritability of personality seems to be generally less than that of intelligence: About 50 percent of the variation among adults appears to be genetic. However, measures of personality are less reliable than measures of intelligence, which means that measurement error is greater. That puts a cap on the apparent importance of inheritance. However, as with intelligence, the environmental influence on personality does not seem to be related to the various ways in which families differ from each other. We don’t know what it is, but we know what it is not.

How can it be that families have so little effect on the development of children? One explanation is that for important traits, individual development is deeply ingrained, buffered from environmental perturbation, so that the genetic potential of the individual will develop almost regardless of the details of the rearing environment. This is the “cast iron theory of the mind.” Children develop their unique individuality into adulthood even in spite of, rather than because of, what we as parents do to them.

Throughout history and prehistory there have been many periods during which children have been reared amid the horrors of famine, war, pestilence, or predation. Studies of special cohorts in the modern era that have suffered from these misfortunes suggest that calamity has little effect on development of intelligence or personality. Today, the range of environmental differences found among families in modern societies is typically very small by comparison. The human psyche appears to resist damage or change. The other theory is the “spun-glass theory of the mind” that is favored by modern meddling liberalism. It holds that the human psyche is a delicate, fragile thing. Without a precisely optimal rearing environment it will fail to develop properly. Of course, prescriptions for what is optimal keep changing with the latest fads of progressive liberalism, but the bulk of the available evidence strongly supports the cast iron theory.

Galton, therefore, was generally correct. The environmental differences provided by different families have little effect on individual differences. However, this does not mean that different family environments are unimportant. The family, and its surrogates such as school, club, church, and state, are fundamentally important for human survival. They are necessary for the survival of the individual, the family’s genes, and the family culture because they influence a child — and influence the group through the child — in ways that have not been thoroughly studied. If we draw an analogy between an infant and a computer, most (but not all) of the hardware and operating software is genetically determined. But much of the contents of many of the files — most of the numbers in the spreadsheets, for example — are written by environmental experiences, many of which are determined by the family.

Sir Francis Galton

Sir Francis Galton

Some of the same studies mentioned above that showed little influence of family environments on some things showed their fundamental importance for others. Whether or not teen-agers profess a belief in God is almost entirely a matter of shared family environment. So is denominational affiliation. Family environment almost alone seems to determine attitudes toward racial integration. The cultural standards you value are almost entirely determined by your family, or family surrogates such as the schools. The contents of the psyche, therefore, but not its style or capability are determined by family environment.

It is not always certain, however, where personality ends and culture begins. It is clear that a child who is genetically destined to be intelligent and conscientious almost regardless of where or how he is reared is going to speak the language of the people around him. He will probably adopt their religion, preferences, and politics, too. Therefore, a child — bright or dumb, extroverted or not — if raised in a family that espouses modern liberalism’s views of a progressive utopia, is almost certainly doomed never to experience a feeling of sublime pleasure from handling an engraved work of art that happens to be a side-by-side double-barreled shotgun of the supreme quality that is labeled a “Best Gun.” Of course, it is natural that people have differences of opinion; it is when the indoctrinated products of other families’ prejudices feel a moral compulsion to prevent me from exercising preferences they abhor — that is what is unacceptable.

Race destroyers like Morris Dees’ Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) certainly can have a profound influence on the cultures of families and the survival of their genes because of the propaganda they spread via family surrogates. The SPLC runs a “Teaching Tolerance” program that saturates schools and teachers with well-prepared materials that glamorize miscegenation and promote multiculturalism.

More broadly, it is interesting to note that Head Start and other centralized government programs aimed at children have been convincingly shown not to affect intelligence — which refutes the claim on which they were initially sold to the public. Our liberal masters are nevertheless determined to expand these programs rather than drop them. Why? Could it be that they understand the effectiveness of propaganda in shaping the contents and values of young minds even if the efficiency of those minds is not affected? As all totalitarians know, propagandizing the youth is a particularly effective way to modify the cultural values of a population.

A very dramatic example of the effects of environment can be found in modern Japan. Today’s Japanese are genetically no different from those of 50 years ago. And yet it would be hard to find a nation that has more dramatically changed its stance towards war, aggression, and militarism. The Japanese still love their country but they no longer invade their neighbors or die in banzai charges. What is more, they are probably no long capable of a banzai charge.

The effects of environment are just as clear in the case of nations that were divided by Communism. Koreans and Germans were not changed biologically by half a century of scientific socialism, but the contents of the collective psyche were so thoroughly refashioned that people on the other side of the border seemed like strangers to each other.

These are differences that are just as dramatic as the change in white Americans brought about by the revolution in racial thinking. Biologically, whites are no different from their turn-of-the-century ancestors. And yet in their terror of being thought “racist,” in their inability to take even the most elementary steps to preserve their nation and culture, they are as different from their ancestors as the cowed North Koreans are from South Koreans.

Let us imagine the ultimate outcome for two different groups of families engaged in long-term competition for survival. Families of the first group indoctrinate their children in the belief that they are different from and better than any other people. They are told others will harm them if given a chance. They constantly remind each other of the wrongs others have done them in the past or present. They are encouraged to criticize other groups and to breed only within their group. They learn that this is a hostile world, in which it is their prime obligation to care for and provide mutual support for members of their own group.

By contrast, a prescription for racial and cultural suicide is easy to formulate. Imagine a different group of families, which allow their children to be taught that their ancestors were personally responsible for many of the evils of the present world. They learn that it is their obligation to atone for the sins of their group. Should they, themselves, be harmed it is divine to turn the other cheek. Moreover, their culture is merely one — and a not very nice one — among a diversity of others. They must never criticize other groups, and it is neat to celebrate diversity, even in choice of mates. They must treat all members of other groups and other families as if they were brothers, and it is best and most noble to treat members of other groups better than they treat their own. In the real world of competing groups that play by different rules, this will lead to total elimination, both genetically and culturally.

As the title of David Rowe’s important book emphasizes, there are limits on family influence with regard to the development of individual differences in intelligence and personality characteristics. At the same time, family indoctrination and support is of unlimited importance for the very survival of a family’s individuals, genes, and culture.