Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count

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A bold refutation of the belief that genes determine intelligence.
Who are smarter, Asians or Westerners? Are there genetic explanations for racial differences in test scores? What makes some nationalities excel in engineering and others in music? Will math and science remain a largely male preserve. From the damning research of The Bell Curve to the more recent controversy surrounding geneticist James Watson's statements, one factor has been consistently left out of the equation: culture. In the tradition of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, world-class social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett takes on the idea of intelligence as something that is biologically determined and impervious to culture--with vast implications for the role of education as it relates to social and economic development. Intelligence and How to Get It asserts that intellect is not primarily genetic but is principally determined by societal influences. Nisbett's commanding argument, superb marshaling of evidence, and fearless discussions of the controversial carve out new and exciting terrain in this hotly debated field.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
That genetics determines intelligence has become a mantra for millions of Americans. Social psychologist Richard E. Nisbett, however, refuses to accept what he regards as a simplistic explanation for a much more complex reality. In Intelligence and How to Get It, he shows how narrow genetic explanations ignore the dominant shaping forces of culture, economics, and education. His refutation of arguments that intellect is essentially an accident of birth will provide encouragement for educators, parents, and citizens dedicated to social reform.
From the Publisher
“Richard E. Nisbett, a prominent cognitive psychologist who teaches at the University of Michigan, doesn't shirk the hard work....he offers a meticulous and eye-opening critique of hereditarianism...its real value lies in Nisbett’s forceful marshaling of the evidence, much of it recent, favoring what he calls ‘the new environmentalism,’ which stresses the importance of nonhereditary factors in determining I.Q. (New York Times Book Review, Jim Holt)”

“A devastating and persuasive refutation of all those who believe intellectual ability is fixed at birth. Few Americans have done as much to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. (Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink)”

“[Nisbett’s] biggest message, largely unspoken, is one of persistence and hope. If all kids are capable of learning under the right circumstances, parents and teachers should never give up on children who appear to be low performers. Everyone has the inherent ability to be smart. (Associated Press, Dinesh Ramde)”

“If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, Intelligence and How to Get It, which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.... Offers terrific advice for addressing poverty.... [and] provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses. (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)”

Jim Holt
In Intelligence and How to Get It, [Nisbett] offers a meticulous and eye-opening critique of hereditarianism. True to its self-helplike title, the book does contain a few tips on how to boost your child's I.Q.…But its real value lies in Nisbett's forceful marshaling of the evidence, much of it recent, favoring what he calls "the new environmentalism," which stresses the importance of nonhereditary factors in determining I.Q. So fascinating is this evidence—drawn from neuroscience and genetics, as well as from studies of educational interventions and parenting styles—that the author's slightly academic prose style can be forgiven.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Whether intelligence is largely determined by genetics or environment has long been hotly contested. Nisbett, a University of Michigan psychology professor, weighs in forcefully and articulately, claiming that environmental conditions almost completely overwhelm the impact of genes. He comes to this conclusion through a careful statistical analysis of a large number of studies and also demonstrates how environment can influence not only IQ measures but actual achievement of both students and adults. (People often "overachieve" when appropriate incentives are in place, Nisbett argues.) Nisbett builds a very strong case that measured IQ differences across racial, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries can easily be explained without resorting to hereditary factors. The result is a very positive message: schools, parents and government programs can have a huge impact if they take the right, which are not necessarily the most expensive, steps. Without those steps, he says, the current role of socioeconomic factors is frightening, with economically disadvantaged children largely condemned to failure. Although Nisbett relies heavily on statistics to document his claims, he does so in a manner accessible to general readers and uses a thoroughly appealing style to engage them throughout. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393065053
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/2/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 883,735
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard E. Nisbett is Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and Research Professor at Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. He has taught courses in social psychology, cultural psychology, cognitive psychology, and evolutionary psychology. His research focuses on how people from different cultures think, perceive, feel, and act in different ways. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association and the William James Fellow Award of the American Psychological Society and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Table of Contents

1 Varieties of Intelligence 1

2 Heritability and Mutability 21

3 Getting Smarter 39

4 Improving the Schools 57

5 Social Class and Cognitive Culture 78

6 IQ in Black and White 93

7 Mind the Gap 119

8 Advantage Asia? 153

9 People of the Book 171

10 Raising Your Child's Intelligence ... and Your Own 182

Epilogue: What We Now Know about Intelligence and Academic Achievement 193

App. A Informal Definitions of Statistical Terms 201

App. B The Case for a Purely Environmental Basis for Black/White Differences in IQ 209

Notes 237

References 257

Credits 283

Index 285

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