: Genius in all of us, the: why everything you've been told about genetics, talent, and iq is wrong (9780385523653) : David Shenk : Books
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Genius In All Of Us, The: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, And Iq Is Wrong

by David Shenk
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • Publishing date: 09/03/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780385523653
  • ISBN: 0385523653


Louann Brizendine Reviews The Genius In All of Us

Louann Brizendine, M.D.,author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain, is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the National Board of Medical Examiners, and is clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. She is founder and director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic and the Teen Girl Mood and Hormone Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, she completed an internship in medicine and neurology at Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a residency in psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Harvard Medical School. She sits on the boards of many prestigious peer reviewed journals and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. Read Brizendine's guest review of The Genius In All of Us:

In The Genius in All of Us Shenk beautifully explains why the nature-nurture debate is dead. It is not just the genes we are born with, but how we are raised and what opportunities are open to us that determine how smart we will become. Nurture and experience reshape our genes, and thus our brain. Shenk argues that the idea we are either born with genius or talent, or we aren’t, is simply untrue. The notion that relentless, deliberate practice changes the brain and thus our abilities has been undervalued over the past 30 years in favor of the concept of “innate giftedness.” Practice, practice, practice (some say 10,000 hours or more) is what it takes. Shenk argues that it is just some fantasy that effortless, gifted genius is born and not made. He marshals evidence to show that genetic factors do not trump environmental factors but rather work in concert with them. Shenk notes that by the sweat of our brow we can train ourselves to be successful--even if we are born with only average genetic talent. Scientists know that how we are raised and how we are trained affects the expression of our genes. If you think you’ve reached your talent limit, think again, Shenk says. It’s not just in your genes, he says, but in the intensity of your motivation. Ambition, persistence, and self-discipline are not just products of genes, but can be shaped by nurture and environment. Certainly it is important to have good genes, but that determines at most only 50 percent of your talent. He underscores the point that intelligence is made up of the skills that a person has developed--with an emphasis on “developed”--through hard work. Encouraging ourselves and our children to work hard requires being surrounded by others also wanting to achieve striving for excellence. Moreover, Shenk gives the hopeful message not just for kids, but also for adults. Happily for us, the human brain remains plastic, changeable and trainable well into old age. So no matter how old you are, if you’d like to be smarter--get to work! --Louann Brizendine

A Q&A with David Shenk

Question: Your book is called The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong. That’s a big claim. Everything and how so?

David Shenk: It is a bold statement, and it reflects how poorly the public has been served when it comes to understanding the relationship between biology and ability. The clichés we’ve been taught about genetic blueprints, IQ, and "giftedness" all come out of crude, early-20th century guesswork. The reality is so much more interesting and complex. Genes do have a powerful influence on everything we do, but they respond to their environments in all sorts of interesting ways. We’ve now learned a lot more about the developmental mechanisms that enable people to get really good at stuff. Intelligence and talent turn out to be about process, not about whether you were born with certain "gifts."

Question: In The Genius in All of Us you state that the concept of nature versus nurture is over. Scientists, cognitive psychologists, and geneticists are moving towards an idea of ‘interactionism.' What does this mean? If the battle of genes versus environment is over, who has won? Which is more important?

David Shenk: They both won, because they're both vitally important. But the new science shows us that they do not act separately. Declaring that a person gets X-percent of his/her intelligence from genes and Y-percent from the environment is like saying that X-percent of Shakespeare's greatness can be found in his verbs, and Y-percent in his adjectives. There is no nature vs. nurture, or nature plus nurture; instead, it's nature interacting with nurture, which is often expressed by scientists as "GxE" (genes times intelligence). This is what "interactionism" refers to. A vanguard of geneticists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have stepped forward in recent years to articulate the importance of the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.

Question: You describe genes and environment as a sound board. How so?

David Shenk: In the past, we’ve been taught that each distinct gene contains a certain dossier of information, which in turn determines a certain trait; if you have the blue-eyed gene, you get blue eyes. Period.

It turns out, though, that the information contained inside genes is only part of the story; another critical part is how often genes get "expressed," or turned on, by other genes and by outside forces. It’s therefore helpful to think of your genome as a giant mixing board with thousands of knobs and switches. Genes are always getting turned on/off/up/down by hormones, nutrients, etc. People actually affect their own genome’s behavior with their actions.

Question: How do these new findings affect the concept of the "The Bell Curve"--that we live in an increasingly stratified world where the "cognitive elite," those with the best genes, are more and more isolated from the cognitive/genetic underclass? Is that idea now completely obsolete?

David Shenk: Yes, it is obsolete. The idea that there is a genetic super-class that has a corner on high-IQ genes is nonsense. This comes out of a profound misunderstanding of how genes work and how intelligence works, and also from a misreading of so-called "heritability" studies. I am not saying that genes don’t affect intelligence. Genes affect everything. But by and large I think the evidence shows that people with low intelligence are missing out on key developmental advantages.

Question: Lewis Terman invented the IQ test at Stanford University in 1916. He declared it the ideal tool to determine a person’s native intelligence. Are IQ tests accurate? What are the benefits and fallout of the IQ test?

David Shenk: IQ tests accurately rank academic achievement. That’s quite different from identifying innate intelligence, which doesn’t really exist. Tufts intelligence expert Robert Sternberg explains that "intelligence represents a set of competencies in development." In other words, intelligence isn’t fixed. Intelligence isn’t general. Intelligence is not a thing. Instead, intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process.

The IQ test has valid uses. It can help teachers and principals understand how well students are doing and what they’re missing. But the widespread belief that it defines what each of us are capable of (and limited to) is disabling for individuals and society. People simply cannot reach their full potential if they honestly believe that they are so severely restricted.

Question: How do we go about finding the genius in all of us? What steps we can take to unlock latent talent?

David Shenk: Find the thing you love to do, and work and work and work at it. Don't be discouraged by failure; realize that high achievers thrive on failure as a motivating mechanism and as instruction guide on how to get better.

(Photo © Alexandra Beers)

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  • Solid Ideas, Unorthodox Packaging
    From Amazon

    Let me start off by saying that I solidly agree with the ideas presented by David Shenk: the human potential for development vastly exceeds our genetic heritage. Shenk's view of human potential dovetails with my own experience in classes in education and psychology and work I have done with children. I very much enjoyed reading this book and hope that it achieves a wide readership -- our country is in desperate need of an expanded understanding of human potential. However, Shenk has not been well served by his publishers. Less than half of the book is the text proper -- the rest is notes and additional discussion. The problem is that there is no indication in the text (such as a note number) to indicate that additional discussion or elaboration is available. One abruptly reaches the end of the text and is presented with the notes, long after one has passed a passage where additional material would have been instructive. The notes are printed in regular text type and thus are very readable, but they are keyed to quotations and page numbers, which forces the reader to turn back to acquire the complete context. As a result, I skipped the notes -- there is a wealth of material here, but it's inaccessible. Second, there is no index, which is a major failing in a book of this kind. If you wish to know, for example, whether Shenk discusses Richard Dawkins, you are out of luck unless you page through the entire book and notes peering at every page. There is a wealth of discussion about current research in genetics, education, psychology, athletics, and much, much more -- but locating the discussion of a particular researcher is impossible. This is particularly frustrating because the bibliography seems comprehensive. I cannot imagine the rationale for omitting an index -- if cost were an issue, the notes could have been printed in smaller type to reduce the page count. All this sadly detracts from the usefulness of a very interesting and provocative book.

  • a book that contradicts itself
    From Amazon

    The study of expert performance has been popularized by (among others) a number of articles in the NY Times and in Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point", and this book seems like an attempt to ride the wave in book form. Unfortunately you'll find three seemingly mutually exclusive claims in this book (1)"Heritability is a population average, meaningless for any single person" on pg. 65 (2) genes interact with nature to produce what we observe (3) "single-gene diseases do exist" pg 21 So in other words genes can be completely deterministic, they interact with the environment to produce outcomes, and they are irrelevant. At various points this book will tell you all 3 are true!

  • A fine discussion suitable for any general lending library
    From Amazon

    The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told about Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong provides an optimistic message as it considers new scientific findings and research that shows how cognitive science and genetics explain and analyze the science behind human potential. New findings offer some startling new insights into how genius exists in all of us, and makes for a fine discussion suitable for any general lending library.

  • Fascinating ~ 4.5/5 stars
    From Amazon

    I think all of us probably know someone with superior intelligence who was born to parents of just average intelligence. How does that happen? In The Genius in All of Us , author David Shenk attempts to show the reader why genius is not all about the genes we were born with. Shenk explains why intelligence is more of a combination of genes and the environment we were raised in, along with outside stimuli, that determines our potential for greatness. Sadly, the majority of us never reach our potential for greatness in our lifetime. According to the author, if you want something bad enough, you must do it over and over and over again, never giving up until you succeed. Most of us give up on early dreams and sometimes even career pursuits when the going get rough. Why do some of us have more drive than others? Why are some of us quitters while others would never think of quitting? Studies have shown that children who early on have been spoken to often, read to on a regular basis, nurtured and encouraged to achieve, have a better chance of achieving greatness. There is one chapter in particular that I found very interesting called: How to Ruin (or Inspire) a Kid, proving parenting does matter. The author uses numerous examples and case studies where hard work and self discipline have resulted in outstanding achievement. One example was the famous baseball played Ted Williams who began hitting baseballs at the age of six every waking hour of free time. Reportedly he never stopped practicing until his hands began to bleed. He wasn't born talented, he just worked harder than everyone else at it. MY THOUGHTS - I really enjoyed this audio book, read by Mark Deakins. I found this book well researched and case studies just fascinating.

  • A good news story for all teachers and educators.
    From Amazon

    Shenk: The genius of all of us. And, the good news is: No-one is genetically doomed to mediocrity! The great thing about Shenk's book is that it casts out the belief in the immutability of intelligence. I grew up with the concept of "g" (general intelligence) and saw its profound effect on education. It suited stratified societies to continue the myth of "g" but it couldn't explain away drive and motivation. Yong Zhao (2009) also warned of the educational problem of high scores, low ability. In an equation that acknowledges that intelligence is a function of environment (G X E), the triggers for intelligence growth were identified as: 1. Speaking to children early and often; 2. Reading early and often; 3. Nurturance and encouragement; 4. Setting high expectations; 5. Embracing failure; 6. Encouraging a `growth mindset'. (pp. 39-40) Suzuki in developing a world famous violin pedagogy, started with a belief that every student has enormous potential, and then with parental support that potential is developed. Shenk says that at birth the parents of the child have two alternatives: a. The prodigy that is pushed by narcissistic parents, and then fall back into mediocrity in adulthood; or b. The emotionally balanced child who will gather skills and develop greatness as an adult. Walter Mischel's marshmallow experiment of delayed gratification is still as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. Epigenetics is an area of genetic study that is developing, and it claims that the effects of events and trauma can be transferred across generations. John Cloud wrote in Time magazine- Why Your DNA Isn't Your Destiny (January 6, 2010), which shows support for the genetic plasticity theory. Shenk's contribution to genetics, education and life is his belief in the plasticity of human potential. All educators need to rejoice at this conclusion, and the book should be compulsory reading for all teachers and aspirant teachers.

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