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Intelligence, heredity and environment

Concerning the issue of which is preponderant, the genetic or inherited ability or the quality of the child's upbringing, there is not a clear conclusion at this time. Studies of identical twins reared in different homes show similar test scores that indicate a genetic factor. However, a hostile environment that does not stimulate the child may result in this ability becoming unused. The main environmental factor seems to be maternal care, while providing additional schooling seems to have no lasting effects.

An effort to modify environmental conditions and help children from low-income families was the American program named "Head Start," driven by the psychologist and educator Edward Zigler of Yale University. Begun in 1965, the program was conceived as a way to aid in all aspects of behavior: physical, social, emotional, and cognitive.

The program was planned to provide a broad range of services to improve the intellectual development, self-esteem, and health (physical and mental) of the children, as well as educational services for the children's parents. The children's activities include play along with instruction, and they are communal and individual.

Parents may participate in their children's activities, and also serve on advisory boards. Medical and dental care is provided by the program, healthful meals are served, and nutritional education is also provided. Finally, families are guided to the corresponding agencies in case social service needs are detected.

The intelligence of a person can be attributed either to genetic factors (heredity), or to environmental factors (environment). The two positions have been sustained by researchers, and much debate has gone on this subject. In educational psychology, the matter is known as the nature versus nurture controversy. The founder of behaviorism, John B. Watson, held that environment was the dominant factor and that any child could be made into almost anything. The middle position, that seems to be the most sensible, expresses the belief that there is always an interaction between inherited and environmental factors. A strong supporter of heredity was Cyril Burt, who even falsified data from twin studies to back his claim that IQ was eighty-percent genetically determined.

The discussion of the origin of intelligence forms part of a greater debate concerning all the traits a person can exhibit. The first one to introduce scientific methods to this old problem was sir Francis Galton who, in the late 19th century, performed studies comparing the traits of identical and fraternal twins, raised in the same environment and in different environments. Traits such as height, weight, and intelligence were studied to determine whether genetic inheritance from parents or the environment in which a child was brought up is the most influential.

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