June 19, 2019

Parenting Style Matters Less Than You Think

“IT IS an age-old question: are we shaped more by nature or nurture? Robert Plomin, a geneticist at King’s College London, has spent his career teasing apart the contributions of DNA and environmental factors to countless human traits, from body weight to personality and academic success. Environment is undoubtedly a key influence on almost every aspect of our lives. But Plomin argues that genetics plays a more important and measurable role, even to the extent that our parenting and schooling don’t matter that much. We caught up with him to discuss his sometimes controversial views.

Give us an example showing how little influence parenting has on the way children turn out.

Take our propensity to be overweight. If zero means parents have no influence and one means total influence, when two siblings grow up together, their body mass index has a correlation of about 0.4. It’s easy to see how people attribute that mainly to nurture, because parents provide both siblings with the same food. But it turns out that isn’t true, and obesity runs in families for reasons of genetics. A killer piece of data is that the correlation for weight is 0 between adoptive siblings who grow up in the same family but don’t share genes. Even more striking is that if you were adopted at birth away from your sibling, you correlate just as much as if you had been reared together in the same family.”

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