Thursday, July 03, 2014

Exodus, er, Parenting 3:14

In another virtual context, Jayman posed the following question:
Is it possible to believe that parenting (beyond the primary functions of keeping your kids healthy and safe) has no long-term impact on children's intelligence, personalities, values, or life outcomes - which it in fact has none - and still engage in most parental activities for fact that they bring joy to all involved and no other reason (or, at least, for the reason that they give your children fond memories of childhood)?
The answer seems self-evidently to be an emphatic "yes". I say "self-evidently" because the same set of questions, only slightly altered, could be posed to one's self, and the answer for virtually everyone will be the same "yes". There are a countless number of ways I can spend my leisure time, none of which are going to have much impact on how I influence the social statistics on income or heart disease rates or how my data point figures into a certain population's average IQ or personality trait profile. Yet how I spend that leisure time is not meaningless from my own subjective perspective. To the contrary, it is the essence of my existentialism.

We live our lives quite subjectively, even those of us who make a concerted effort to look at the world around us as objectively as we are able to.

My response to a question like this dovetails well with my response to the question of free will because, if one takes a moment to dwell on them simultaneously, it becomes apparent that there is a lot of overlap. We may not believe that we have free will, but we all act as though we believe that we do. Subjectively we have it, even if objectively we do not. Existentially, it doesn't matter much one way or the other, especially when it comes to the day-to-day activities that, collectively, constitute life as each one of us experiences it.

We may not think what we do to our children or to ourselves has much--if any--long-term impact on the way their or our lives turn out, but we all act as though our behaviors and decisions do. Paradoxically, knowing that the parental approaches game is one with pretty low-stakes allows a person to engage the parental role with enjoyment--memory-making and the like--as the goal, rather than anxiously agonizing over every deceptively malleable moment of it.

The die is cast. Cross the Rubicon without regret!



27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I would just add that it's also important to recognize that the reason you feel that all your parental activities will have such a long-term impact is because people who felt that way were the ones who left children. Recognizing that all of your desires are products of an evolutionary process allows you to both diagnose and fix problems easier. Contrary to the central Budhist idea, you can't actually overcome your desires any more than you can overcome hunger. But you can shape them and channel them into other arenas.

Would you agree that the only plausible way to live a fulfilling life is essentially hedonistic, albeit one with a longer-term view than the behaviors usually associated with the term?

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Right, you can't help wanting what you want. As to how much you are able to help acting (or not) on those wants is what's in dispute.

Re: the question, it depends on how far you step back. I suppose if you say that whatever you end up doing is what you really wanted to do--why else would you have done it, after all?--and you define hedonism broadly enough to mean doing whatever it is that you want do do, then yes, I suppose so.

I'm trying to figure out how to live a fulfilling life, but I'm not qualified to give an answer yet, heh. Not sure I ever will be.

Anonymous said...

"Keeping your kids healthy and safe"...this is a pretty difficult task, with modern living making it seem almost deceptively easy.

And teaching them skills. Knowledge is not inborn in children, other than basic instincts. Exposing them to knowledge you have accumulated over a lifetime (Urg the hunter-gatherer teaching Urg Jr. how to hunt brontosaurus) or Mr. Finster buy little Chuckhy Finster a computer so he can learn about the world, must necessarily make a big difference in the child's life.

Sure, you have to accept that a child has inborn predispositions and personality, but it is common sense that the world that surrounds them guides where they will end up. If you get on the 3:10 to Yuma, you end up in Yuma.

Dan said...

Jayman is the perfect contrarian. In a world where too many take the insane position that genes do not matter/Hitler, Jayman takes the view that genes are the only thing that exists.

Of course social mores matter enormously -- that is why african immigrants in America are completely out-competing blacks who grew up in America. That is why the whole developed world has below replacement fertility.

I would argue that nurture matters more now than at any time in human history. Natalism has everything to do with culture and nurture now. Consider how Orthodox Jews in Israel average 8 children per woman while their close relatives liberal Jews in America and the UK are averaging closer to 1 child per woman. Both groups are having plenty of sex, but culture and upbringing are completely different.

After just one century, a blink in human history, you would have a 100-fold difference in 'success' almost all from culture.

Audacious Epigone said...

Dan,

Great points. Hispanic second- and third-generation immigrants assimilating to black norms, etc. On the individual level, they might not seem to matter as much, but of course there are societal changes--perhaps now more than ever before--that happen too fast for a hereditary/evolutionary explanation, often in less than a single generation. There are presumably some genetic prerequisites required, but the "heredity + noise explains it all" doesn't feel complete.

JayMan said...

Dan,

A tweet of mine once said this:

https://twitter.com/JayMan471/statuses/444550572922785792

I have never said "that genes are the only thing that exists," yet people keep attributing that to me. I don't see why this keeps coming up, other than the above.

"Of course social mores matter enormously -- that is why african immigrants in America are completely out-competing blacks who grew up in America."

Or maybe someone needs to consider selective immigration, since I've heard it said the average IQ of African immigrants to the U.S. is >110.

"That is why the whole developed world has below replacement fertility."

Since you're arguing against a strawman, sure.

"I would argue that nurture matters more now than at any time in human history. Natalism has everything to do with culture and nurture now."

And you would be wrong.

Dan, I wrote two exhaustive posts discussing the wealth of evidence we have from behavioral genetics. Lasting parental effects are non-existent. There's no there there. How about you stop preaching, stop asserting what you think to be true - what you want to be true, and look at what is true?

"Consider how Orthodox Jews in Israel average 8 children per woman while their close relatives liberal Jews in America and the UK are averaging closer to 1 child per woman."

Because those two groups are genetically identical...

The First Law of behavioral genetics should be plastered on the internet somewhere - maybe on Google's homepage: all human behavioral traits are heritable.

Maybe that will do it. Maybe not.

Dan said...

Jayman -- You write

"I have never said "that genes are the only thing that exists," yet people keep attributing that to me."

Then in the rest of your post you insist that nuture matters 0%. Which leaves genes at 100%, by my math.

It is almost like you are trolling yourself.

Please don't get mad. I wouldn't give you the time of day if I didn't like a lot of your content.

Anonymous said...

If you stipulate parents can impact via health and safety, it is a non-sequitur to say parenting doesn't effect life outcomes. Health and safety would seem to have a lot of impact towards future life outcomes. Of course, that is easy to trivialize in times-a-plenty with grocery stores, vaccines and suburbs.

Parental investment is biologically costly. Clearly it lasted for reasons other than our own hedonism. If parenting didn't matter, we'd all be like rabbits.

JayMan said...

Dan,

I'm not getting mad. You'd know ;) Nothing I say is personal.

"in the rest of your post you insist that nuture matters 0%. Which leaves genes at 100%, by my math."

What's not in the genes is not in the parents...

JayMan said...

@Anonymous:

"If you stipulate parents can impact via health and safety, it is a non-sequitur to say parenting doesn't effect life outcomes. Health and safety would seem to have a lot of impact towards future life outcomes."

Yet how big are the differences in said things for kids in the modern world?

When we're talking about the parental effect, we're talking about to what extent are the differences between people attributable to differences in the parental treatment they received. Today, in the developed world, anyway, the vast majority of parents manage to keep their kids healthy and safe. It requires effort, sure, but has become a given. Anything parents are doing beyond that can't be making a difference to how their children turn out.

"Parental investment is biologically costly. Clearly it lasted for reasons other than our own hedonism. If parenting didn't matter, we'd all be like rabbits."

In the past, it was no small job to keep kids healthy and safe. This required great investment, and hence what we see. See above about differences.

MC said...

This debate would make more sense to me if there were some discussion of parents whose aspirations for their kids go beyond high SAT scores and income.

I'm Mormon, so I'll use Mitt Romney as an example. Mitt was raised Mormon. Mitt had five sons, all of whom served LDS missions and have married and seem to be having lots of kids themselves. And yes, all of them seem to be doing just fine career-wise, but I doubt that Mitt cares about that career part as much as he does the first.

If Mitt had been adopted by a secular, upper-income family, yeah, he might still have gone on to Harvard Business School and worked at Bain, maybe even gone into politics. But he probably wouldn't have had more than 1-3 kids (apropos to his income class), probably would have married some career woman with three degrees and a feminist chip on her shoulder, probably would say "Dammit" instead of "Golly," might have had a mistress on the side (a la Sherman McCoy), etc. In other words, he could have all the money and worldly success he has now, but he'd be a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PERSON. And not the kind of person that George Romney would have wanted him to turn out to be. So how much did George Romney's parenting choices matter? How much did Mitt's? From the standpoint of what they wanted for their kids, a lot.

Likewise, I read to my kids from the Bible and Book of Mormon every night. I don't suppose this reading actually supercharges their brains or even will cause them to be especially religious. What I do expect is to inculcate them in the values I care about most. And values, especially religious values, are the one thing that parents are found to have a large influence on:

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/02/what-do-adoptiontwins-studies-show.html

JayMan said...

MC:

There aren't many people whom you should take the word of on behavioral genetics over me. This includes many behavioral geneticists.

Especially not Tyler Cowan with the horseshit he says there.

There is no shared environment effect on eventual fertility. See above in my comment to Dan.

As well, the extended twin design (looking at twins and extended family together) clearly shows zero parental impact on views and values. The same goes for religiosity, where extended twin studies and studies of reared-apart identical twins so precisely zero parental effect. You may enjoy reading moral passages to your children, but the only long term effect will be knowledge of the content of these claims and memories of the experience. Sorry.

MC said...

"There is no shared environment effect on eventual fertility."

"NO shared environment?" Here's what the abstract you yourself linked to says:

"Male fertility is generally subject to smaller genetic and larger shared-environment effects than female fertility."

Your resort to authority ("There aren't many people whom you should take the word of on behavioral genetics over me") is absurd, given that you are an anonymous blogger whose arguments patently contradict his own evidence. I'm not mocking anonymous blogging, just the fact that you expect deference to your unsupported assertions based on having started a Wordpress page.

"As well, the extended twin design (looking at twins and extended family together) clearly shows zero parental impact on views and values"

Zero? So, like, if my kids were taken from me and raised by atheist left-wing Jewish law professors, there would be ZERO difference in the values they grow up with? Citation please. You clearly have a very narrow definition of "values" that seriously religious people do not share.

MC said...

Obviously

"there would be ZERO difference in the values they grow up with?"

should read

"there would be ZERO difference in the values they have when they grow up?"

It's late.

MC said...

Obviously the Janissaries were genetically predisposed to Islamic life. No shared environment effects there:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janissaries

JayMan said...

MC:

First, you need to get up to speed, because you clearly have no idea what you're talking about (for example, like the meaning of the term "shared environment").

You (and everybody, actually) should realize that I've been talking about this topic for a long time. The odds that you're going to find some obvious fatal flaw in my discussion on parenting are exceedingly low.

That said, specifically:

"Your resort to authority ("There aren't many people whom you should take the word of on behavioral genetics over me") is absurd, given that you are an anonymous blogger whose arguments patently contradict his own evidence. I'm not mocking anonymous blogging"

For the record, you don't know who I am or what I do (by design), so keep your opinions of "anonymous bloggers" in check.

It would be an appeal to authority if I said it was true because I said so or something to that effect. Rather it's true because of the evidence.

Indeed, on this point on evidence, it's important to look not at what researchers say about their data, but at their actual data.

"'NO shared environment?' Here's what the abstract you yourself linked to says:

'Male fertility is generally subject to smaller genetic and larger shared-environment effects than female fertility.'


And you didn't actually look at the paper, which is what you should always do in situations like this. Unfortunately, I don't have a free link to the paper to give you, but the study found a small, non-zero, but not statistically significant (i.e., the confidence interval included 0), or barely statistically significant shared environment for some older cohorts. For younger cohorts, the shared environment was zero or not statistically significantly different from zero.

However, two other studies, one also done in Denmark:

Behavior Genetic Modeling of Human Fertility: Findings From a Comtemporary Danish Twin Study

and one done in the U.S.

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Fertility Expectations and Outcomes Using NLSY Kinship Data (Book chapter, no free link, sorry)

...found the usual significant heritability and zero shared environment impact on age of first child or ultimate fertility.

"Zero? So, like, if my kids were taken from me and raised by atheist left-wing Jewish law professors, there would be ZERO difference in the values they grow up with?"

That's what significant heritability and zero shared environment impact means. Adopted children don't grow up to be like their adoptive parents or adoptive siblings; they become like their biological parents and biological siblings. The specific knowledge – the content – (say knowledge of Jewish practices vs. Mormon practices) might be different, but not how they feel or think about such things and the wider world.

I don't mean just some nebulous broad personality traits, I mean all the stuff that "really matters."

I've exhaustively covered this. That's what I the people who cite me are talking about. See (read in the following order from beginning to end):

All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable
Environmental Hereditarianism
Why HBD
The Son Becomes The Father
More Behavioral Genetic Facts

MC said...

“For the record, you don't know who I am or what I do (by design), so keep your opinions of ‘anonymous bloggers’ in check.”

Gee, tough guy, didn’t you read where I said I wasn’t mocking anonymous blogging? It’s precisely the fact that I know nothing about you beyond your blogging that keeps me from accepting your arguments based on the fact that you are a supposed expert. And I think I’ll keep my own counsel about what opinions to keep in check, thanks.

“It would be an appeal to authority if I said it was true because I said so or something to that effect.”

You mean, like this? “There aren't many people whom you should take the word of on behavioral genetics over me.” Call me crazy, but if I “take your word” on something, that means I’m believing it because you said it. Likewise, “You (and everybody, actually) should realize that I've been talking about this topic for a long time” sounds an awful lot like an appeal to authority, does it not?
“Unfortunately, I don't have a free link to the paper to give you, but the study found a small, non-zero, but not statistically significant (i.e., the confidence interval included 0), or barely statistically significant shared environment for some older cohorts. For younger cohorts, the shared environment was zero or not statistically significantly different from zero.”

So you claimed “zero shared environment effect” but linked to a paper that shows a “barely statistically significant effect” for some age groups and a non-zero but statistically insignificant effect for other age cohorts. I’m starting to feel a bait and switch, but I can’t see the paper, so why don’t we look at the one full paper you linked to see what it says:

“[I]n societies that are considerably posttransition, where child-bearing norms dictate the propriety of postponing childbearing for education and other competing activities, individual [genetic] differences in fertility motivation may not emerge naturally, even if they are present.”

Does that sound like any society you know? Like the upper-middle-class white American society I live in, maybe? Sure sounds like the study is saying that there is a genetic component to fertility, but that it can only be fully expressed when the social norms permit. Mightn’t it matter whether your social norms are dictated by American society at large or instead by a strong religious community? Thus, the authors conclude:

“Past research suggested that the answer to the question ‘Do genes influence human fertility?’ is simply ‘No.’ […] Our findings suggest that the answer should be ‘Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t..’”

So. . . yeah. Not exactly the categorical assertion of "100% genetic influence" I was promised.

(cont.)

MC said...

(cont.)

“The specific knowledge – the content – (say knowledge of Jewish practices vs. Mormon practices) might be different, but not how they feel or think about such things and the wider world.”

The fact that you define the content of religion down to “knowledge” shows that you understand little about religion. What about religious practices? Mormons actually care whether you do the things that the religion requires, like abstain from alcohol, pay tithing, or perform specific ordinances in the LDS temple. Would Mitt Romney have done any of those things if he were raised by atheist Jews? Would the Janissaries have abstained from pork if they had remained with their Christian parents? Astonishingly unlikely, right? So from the standpoint of Mormon or Muslim parents, it matters a great deal what “values” you raise them with. The only way you can claim that raising kids Mormon will not affect their values is if you define “values” as “genetic predisposition to find certain values appealing,” which, yes, tautologically is 100% genetic. My wife and I were virgins when we married in our mid-twenties, but it wasn’t because we had no genetic desire for sex prior to that time. If we were raised in secular homes, we certainly would have had sex previously. That’s the sort of difference in behavior that doesn’t show up in SAT scores and GDP per capita, but it matters enormously to us.

JayMan said...

MC:

OK my friend, since, instead of looking at the volumes of evidence I've given you or showing even the slightest sign that you've taken any of it into consideration at all, but instead are blathering on like a pompous blowhard, I'm going to treat you accordingly.

Are you acquainted with the fable of the fly and the broom? If not, you should check it out.

Let me make something clear to you and to all other commenters. When it comes to the efficacy of parenting, there is no "debate." The jury is in: parenting, as it's commonly conceived, has no lasting effect. To dispute this point is akin to disputing evolution.

The only "discussion" is a matter of acceptance, not the reality.

"Not exactly the categorical assertion of '100% genetic influence' I was promised."

You were never promised one. See my comments to Dan.

"Does that sound like any society you know? Like the upper-middle-class white American society I live in, maybe? Sure sounds like the study is saying that there is a genetic component to fertility, but that it can only be fully expressed when the social norms permit."

And now you are appealing to their authority here. This is not what their data show.

"Would Mitt Romney have done any of those things if he were raised by atheist Jews? Would the Janissaries have abstained from pork if they had remained with their Christian parents?"

Answers to these questions were found in my posts above. Look again. See the matter of "vertical cultural transmission."

"My wife and I were virgins when we married in our mid-twenties, but it wasn’t because we had no genetic desire for sex prior to that time."

As I said to you, and as discussed in my posts, concrete behaviors and outcomes are heritable too, and show no shared environment influence (except when patently dependent on content, like party or religious identification).

"If we were raised in secular homes, we certainly would have had sex previously."

And that's the problem: now you're just making shit up.

I think I'm done here. Everything you need has been given to you. I see no need to discuss this with you further, but I will respond as I see fit for my own amusement.

MC said...

"but instead are blathering on like a pompous blowhard"

Ah, projection...

"And now you are appealing to their authority here. This is not what their data show."

Care to explain, since you obviously understand the data better than the authors of the study?

"And that's the problem: now you're just making shit up."

Which part, that we didn't have sex before marriage, or that we wanted to? I mean, if you want to believe that no one ever abstains until marriage, or that those who do wait obviously had no genetic desire for sex before marriage, okey-dokey. I can't argue with someone who thinks I don't exist.

JayMan said...

MC:

In summary:

The general pattern of the heritability of behavioral traits is 75-0-25 (75% genetic variance, 0% shared environment, 25% unknown). This pattern is so consistent that if anything deviates from this, it's a sign that something is strongly amiss.

Indeed, a low heritability or a nonzero shared environment can be taken to mean that there is something off in the matter in question. Often it's a sign of a spurious result (of which there are many ways of getting). Better measures (external validation, larger samples, including adoptees and/or extended family, look at adults, etc) tend to push results in the direction of the usual 75-0-25.

Occasionally, you'll see a study with a small shared environment term. The problems are invariably as I've described here (I also review many of these in the aforementioned posts). Averaging many studies (meta-analyses) often push heritability up and spurious shared environment findings to zero. In the case of fertility, or even age of first sex, the shared environment finding has been consistently zero. Maybe at some point I will put together something specifically on this point.

It's important to remember that the shared environment is often present in youth, when parents do have some sway over their children's behavior. It typically peters out to zero over time (as well, such results often tend to be the result of biased measurements as well). So even if there is some parental effect on what is childhood or even adolescent behavior, it doesn't carry over to adulthood.

In other words, you may temporarily win the battle against genes, but you will always lose the war.

"Which part, that we didn't have sex before marriage, or that we wanted to? I mean, if you want to believe that no one ever abstains until marriage, or that those who do wait obviously had no genetic desire for sex before marriage, okey-dokey."

Desire ≠ action. As I said elsewhere, meta-thoughts and behaviors are heritable too. Having the desire, but choosing to not act on it, is just as heritable as acting without hesitation.

In your case, ask yourself why did you choose to not act on the desires you had? Now before you answer, also think how do you know that?

That might go a long way to helping you understand the situation.

MC said...

"In your case, ask yourself why did you choose to not act on the desires you had? Now before you answer, also think how do you know that."

Because I would have betrayed my covenants and likely been excommunicated or disfellowshipped from the Church, with all of the guilt (internal) and shame (external) associated with those. Sure, genetics might have given me the ability to withstand temptation. But why would I even care about resisting it if I hadn't been raised Mormon or in some other religion that emphasizes chastity? That entails my parents taking me to church, praying at every meal, etc.

Do you know a single human being who waited until marriage for sex and not for religious reasons? What percentage of Americans who are virgins at marriage were raised as atheists? Every single person in my age and social class lives with their future spouse before marriage, except for my Mormon friends. I'm self-aware enough to know that without the fear of God (or, to look at it from a secular standpoint, social sanction), there would have been no reason for me not to do what literally every secular acquaintance of mine has done.

Audacious Epigone said...

Jayman,

Is the parental instinct primarily a vestige of a much more violent and precarious past, then?

Re: Mormons, they're a pretty culturally (and genetically?) distinct sub-group of European Americans. I wonder if they--or Amish, etc--are represented to any significant extent in the meta analyses you've looked at.

Dan said...

Arguing against Jayman on the topic of Total Genetic Predistination seems fruitless in the face of his Absolute Faith.

Parenting does not matter and Obama's outcome would have been same had been raised by his polygamous father instead of his liberal mother and her family. Indeed.

Many have religious fervor, but to sustain religious fervor when your particular religious group has one member is impressive to say the least. So hats off to Jayman!

JayMan said...

@Dan:

The things that people who are effectively creationist deniers say about the facts as discussed by me are telling.

"Arguing against Jayman on the topic of Total Genetic Predistination seems fruitless in the face of his Absolute Faith."

Sure, because I claim "Total Genetic Predestination" and of course I have no evidence to go on whatsoever.


"Parenting does not matter and Obama's outcome would have been same had been raised by his polygamous father instead of his liberal mother and her family. Indeed."

Well, life may have been different in Africa, for a variety of reasons.

"Many have religious fervor, but to sustain religious fervor when your particular religious group has one member"


Are you sure about the one member part?

JayMan said...

@Audacious Epigone:

"Is the parental instinct primarily a vestige of a much more violent and precarious past, then?"

Precarious, certainly. Childhood mortality was much higher just a century ago. People underestimate how difficult parenting was for the overwhelming bulk of human history.


"Re: Mormons, they're a pretty culturally (and genetically?) distinct sub-group of European Americans. I wonder if they--or Amish, etc--are represented to any significant extent in the meta analyses you've looked at."

They may or may not be, but the point is moot. Behavioral genetic studies today span the entire Western world and contain many various samples within it. As well, it also works in East Asia. Tiger parenting appears to be just as powerless to shape children in the end as is "soft" Western parenting.

MC said...

I just want to hear Jayman answer my point about the Janissaries. Would they have turned out to be just as observant of Islamic law if they had been raised to adulthood by their Christian parents?