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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Parental and peer group influence

In response to the recent post, All political philosophies flow from this one piece of knowledge, a commenter named Rona said:

One thing I imagine [knowledge about the genetic basis of IQ] does is ease the concern parents have about "doing everything" for their children. Turns out reading to your kids, choosing a great preschool, playing Mozart etc. are irrelevant to their intelligence.

Now if parents could accept that their opinions, values and attitudes will never matter in significantly shaping their child's personality and values, they could relax and simply make sure that child's peer group espouses the sort of opinions and behaviours they want instilled.

I agree with the first part of Rona's statement. Genes do trump all but the most deprived environments when it comes to intelligence.

But I disagree with the second part.

My theory: a child will adopt a parents' tastes and values and outlook in inverse correlation with the narcissism of that parent. If a parent is a blowhard -- of high or low IQ -- who can never admit his mistakes, his child is likely to adopt an opposite outlook. And vice versa.

If a parent is too rigid in his or her thinking, the child will see that and instinctively go in an opposite direction. And if the parent is loathsome in his hypocrisy, that will also drive the child (or anyone else) away.

I also think that children react the same way to their peer groups. If they have friends who are attractively liberal or attractively conservative, a youngster will gravitate in that direction. But if the peer group is composed of self-righteous, pretentious twits, that effectively encourages a youngster to take an opposite stance.

In September of 1968, at age 14, I was sent to a private school of approximately 120 students in Boston. That fall, they took a poll as to whom they favored in that year's Presidential election, every student but one chose McGovern over Nixon.

The students (and teachers) there were all totally convinced of their own righteousness. Some would even talk about revolution (this was 1968). I remember looking at these soft, spoiled upper middle class kids (who wouldn't have been able to win a fistfight against most public school kids) and wondering how they thought they were going to beat the US Army.

The headmaster had imported a number of black students from Roxbury. They pretty much had the run of the place, and could say and do as they pleased, at least on a social level. Needless to say, they all saw themselves as the victims of oppression. All the white kids were absolutely terrified of being accused of being racist, the worst sin imaginable. (Meanwhile, I saw quite a bit of overt racism that went in the opposite direction.)

All of the students smoked marijuana and did other drugs. This was regarded as cool (at age 15, I was not immune to this particular form of thinking).

It was just assumed by most of the students at the school that conservatives were not only idiotic but also evil. Of course, most of the students didn't know any conservatives, but this didn't change their opinion.

And they all considered themselves very "open-minded."

Whenever anybody asked me my opinions in high school, I just said I was apolitical. But in the meantime, a lot of negative impressions of liberals were piling up.

Needless to say, I eventually went the other way.

I'm just one data point, but I've seen this opposite directional pattern many, many times.

(My parents, by the way, tend to be middle of the road. While I have reacted to them in many ways, my most vivid and off-putting impression of political types came from that private school.)

Think of the cliche of the preacher's daughter being the wildest girl in town. One good example of the product of a severe religious upbringing is "Star," Charlie Manson's new paramour, described four posts below.

The biggest exception I can think of to this rule is with members of ethnic groups which see themselves as separate and distinct minorities. Generally, members of these groups absorb their group's values.

That aside, I think the general rule holds: the more narcissistic the holder of certain positions, the more likely those close to him will end up with opposing positions. It's not a prefect correlation, but it's a positive one.

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