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Wednesday, October 8. 2008
Are humans a Blank Slate?
Did you know that identical twins, whether they are separated at birth or raised together, are equally similar in personality, intelligence, interests, and habits? It's a stunning fact, I think.
I have been teaching the essentials of human nature and the related genetic foundations of human differences for years, partly because these things are true, and partly to counterbalance the "blank slate" bias in our society that says that we are all somehow equal until parents and our environment get their hands on us. This assumption lies behind the insidious mid- 20th century idea in psychology that Moms are the cause of everybody's problems. (No, I am not denying that events affect us, but only in the most extreme cases do they shape our basic architecture.)
The blank slate assumption, with its denial of human nature, has a lengthy history, but it was picked up most ardently by Marxists who wished very much to believe that social and psychological experts could shape children in such a way as to create "a new man," better suited to their vision of a utopian society (run by them, of course).
Steven Pinker's 2002 book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature was one of the first non-technical books (along with books like The Bell Curve) to address the subject. Unlike Larry Summers, Pinker was not run out of town for saying the politically incorrect things he says.
David Thompson has a fine brief discussion of this topic, and posted the short and entertaining lecture below by Harvard's Pinker in which he also touches on the topics of the arts and of parenting:
Posted by Dr. Joy Bliss in Our Essays, Politics, Psychology, and Dr. Bliss at 16:03 | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (0)
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"not denying that events effect us": "effect" should be "affect"
Did you see Derbyshire's article the other day? Here:
Because I have been an identical twin for 72 years this month I have always been interested in twin studies. Having been a mother for at least 50 of those years and to three children, I have always wondered if those who thought it was all nurture have ever had children. They are born with such totally different personalities (even twins ARE different in many ways) I just thought intuitively they were born with their distinct personality. Of course environment has an effect, but it is acting on a built in wiring in each individual brain. At the age I am, I can see that my sister and I have more in common in our personalities than I would have conceded we did at age 21.
If you want to know the personality traits you were born with, take the Myers-Brigg test. It's fast and you will be able to read all about 'you' at the end. This test is universally accepted as one of the best, if not the best. Over the years I've taken it several times for various reasons, and I test the same every time. INFJ
Really. Do it. It's fascinating. I bet you think to yourself when you read about your type, "Oh. No wonder!" You will also realize how nature set you up to deal with nuture.
Meta, do you think this test will help me get OUT of this reitrement home for nuns with black habits ? I took your advice, and Luther's and it's been down right terrible . I want my sheep back! There's no one here under the age of 75.
Jappy my friend... I said RIGHT turn at the gate, right turn.
Take that test and we will get right to work on your transfer papers so as to make everything right.
Yo, Luthah... youse only have four RIGHTs in two sentences thar. Mebbe youse needs a left? Don't listen to him, Jappy. He's an engineer and should only be doing straight linear paths instead of straying off the path to the long and winding road of anointing cowboys as Knights of the Crossed Ewes.
When Engineers Go Bad. :}
Most avid bloggers at all types of blogs are INxx.
Freud and Ayn Rand were also big on “tabula rasa.” It might be interesting to study the more steadfast ‘blank slaters’ to figure out what they had in common.
My personal bias is that there's no such thing as a "superman" - everybody has strengths and weaknesses that add or detract from a societal whole. It may be nature's way.
I don't know about Rand, but Freud was most definitely not a tabulsa rasa guy. Quite the opposite.
Meta mentioned Jungian-based MBTI, and I recalled that Freud and Jung were at some odds regarding "tabula rasa". Is it a matter of definition and preference? Freud preferred to focus on the ego and superego, while Jung went into more detail describing aspects of “the id”?
“Tabula Rasa is also featured in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis. Freud depicted personality traits as being formed by family dynamics (see Oedipus complex, etc.). Freud's theories show that one can downplay genetic and congenital influences on human personality without advocating free will. In psychosanalysis, one is largely determined by one's upbringing.” – by (how do you find the author in Wikipedia)?
Personally, I much prefer quotes from the source itself.
I believe the blank slate assumption is also the foundation for the left's desire to mandate/legislate equality of outcome. If we all start out as equals, we must all have equal capabilities, therefore any inequality of outcome is due to biases in the system and/or being a victim, and must be corrected by society.
Of course, the desired outcome is selected by the left's elites - some are more equal than others, you see.
But at the same time, the "born that way" notion is used by the left to suspend moral judgment.
We are being told that EVERYTHING - marital infidelity, sexual orientation, intelligence, the ability to focus and control emotion - we are being told that all these things are genetically determined and beyond our control.
Genetics is being used to undercut Judeo-Christian notions of personal choice and responsibility, and to dissuade people from undertaking the hard work of attaining adult self-mastery.
Good post, and Pinker's video is tremendous. I linked back.
I have to disagree with Meta about the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory, though. I know lots of folks think it's the bee's knees, but I think it's more of a parlor game and conversation starter than a useful tool.
Have you taken the test yourself AVI? If so, would you mind sharing the result? I think it would be interesting if everyone here did so and shared the results.
I first took it about 15 years ago, and have done so a couple of times since. My INTJ was amazingly accurate in the particulars... not a perfect match by any means but still, I thought, pretty impressive.
I've never been a 'blank slate' believer. It always seemed to me that basic common sense would dictate that with the many millions of combinatorial arrangements of DNA it would be extremely rare for any two unrelated persons to be born with the same 'hardwiring'.
OK, so I took the test and am also an INTJ (whatever that means). I supposedly am of similar personality to: Stephen Hawking, Andrew Grove, Marie Curie, Guy Kawasaki, Igor Sikorsky, and Hillary Clinton. As the Sesame Street song says, "One of these things doesn't belong here, one of these things isn't the same..."
Keep reading down. There should be two essays per type - both giving detailed analysis of the type.
Or you can just put INTJ into Google and there will be a plethora of sites to click on.
KRW... there was a black swan in that grouping. And it wasn't you. But that's politics.
I pretty much ignored the individuals named in my group... that's just flattery by the test makers. Obviously most, if not all of those you named, never took the test. But they did have strong personalities which might, in some crude way, have been analyzed at a later date.
Take Meta's advice and look at particular traits... it can be enlightening.
There are several other similar tests out there claiming to be better than the Myers-Brigg, but they all work on the same premise of inherent personality traits that are with you for life, and they use similar metrics.
As far as usefulness, I don't know about parlor games or converstation starters or dating web sites based on scores, but for the one taking the test and studying the results, it can be eye-opening. For any of the various personality tests, the point is to give you some insight into why you do the things you do or react the way you do. I'll go so far to say it's a shame parents don't know what traits their child is born with. That knowledge would help in the nurturing of a child................................... Oh well. Suffice to say, I wish my parents had knowledge of my personality traits; and I wish I'd had knowledge of my children's personalities instead of having to figure it out through trial and error of expectations. Hardly a parlor game, that. More like a legacy of who fucks up the most.
And then turn that card over... wouldn't it be helpful if parents knew of their own personality traits that they need be aware of when raising their children.
If that were the case, I wouldn't be here. My parents' types would have said: Do not have children because your expectations are unreasonable. So are your punishments.
I did give the test to both my kids and it is an amazing study in human nature when you can crawl up into the crow's nest of objectivity long enough to see the dynamics in play. Too bad there is no 'rewind' button on parenting. I'm lucky to be an INFJ in that regard, though.
Disagree... your parents would have said... oh, we can overcome any of that BS analysis of our traits. Our expectations are not exceptional, our punishments perfectly appropriate to the work at hand. We know best. That may seem to contradict my earlier comment... but it doesn't really.
Yes... but then how many of us would have worn out that rewind button by now... no matter how much we think we know. Fortunately, that will never be an option. Nor should it be, in my opinion.
#220.127.116.11.1 Luther McLeod on 2008-10-08 22:38 (Reply)
My parents would have snorted at the idea of testing for such. I do remember during the time when the debate of nature vs. nurture was in one of its swings and leaning toward nature. My mother said, "Thank heavens." As if she was absolved of any responsibility in her parenting and therefore free to carry on with her self-righteous methods of rearing her offspring. So maybe you're right, Luther.
As for the rewind button - What if we all got one hit on it. Do you know what you'd rewind?
#18.104.22.168.1.1 Meta on 2008-10-09 00:09 (Reply)
Of course your parents would have snorted... if such test was supposed to suggest how we should live our lives. But they're not.
Though that's funny how you classify your mother... and probably not a lot different than what was 'normal' back then.
Yes... I know what I would rewind... but I can't say in a public forum. Some might become red-faced.
#22.214.171.124.1.1.1 Luther McLeod on 2008-10-09 00:20 (Reply)
Nurturing? A mixed bag. IMO, NF parents would likely have nurtured with more skill knowing your type while STs may have thought you a bit strange, if they even took the results seriously at all.
MBTI is homogenized and simplified, maybe to keep it interesting. It boils things down to 16 distinct types, but I see people falling somewhere in the hump of the 4 bell curves they test for. An extreme ESTP (psychopath) will have much less in common with a "normal" ESTP who reacts and behaves much more similarly to a "normal" ESFP.
An interesting thing you can do is take the test from the perspective of ‘you, when you were 10 years old’. I was probably an ENFP, but now I’m always an INTJ, occasionally INFJ or ENTJ (depending on the kind of week I’m having I suppose). Major events in my adolescence did change me.
I am going to sound very stuffy with this, but onward...
I am not comparing it to other tests of the type, but to psychological tests used by professionals. The MBTI has weak reliability (retesting a few months later produces different results too often) and validity (the results don't correlate to real world outcomes such as profession very well). The MBTI does better than Tarot cards or having your astrological chart done, but not much.
The MMPI, and especially the new PAI, are much better tests.
On the other hand, I agree with the part about not making people into something they are not. My mother used to say "You can teach your children manners. That's it."
Not to worry about stuffy here, AVI. We're just having a friendly conversation.
Though I do wonder if you might be able to share with us a few of the studies that support your assertion. I ask as your consistent inclusion of Tarot cards, Astrology and Parlor games leads me to believe you might have some small bias in making an objective assessment as to the relative merits of the three tests you mention.
All such tests depend on the 'good faith' of the test taker to be 'honest' in their answers. Now I will step out on a limb... I would venture that most of the MBTI test takers have done so in other than a professional setting... in other words with no particular reason or motivation to 'game' the test. No rewards in other words. And so their answers, and results, might change along with their world view and experience with life.
Whereas I'm going to assume that most test takers of the MMPI and PAI have taken the test in a professional setting in which their results might have immediate repercussions on their immediate future. In other words... motivation and reward for 'gaming' the test. Thus, if they are cognizant enough... they game the test, which allows for more consistent results in regard to reliability and validity in the long run.
I realize that you work in a professional setting in which you rely on 'tests' to help you determine the most appropriate therapy for your patients. A most different world than most of us inhabit.
I have taken both the MBTI and the MMPI more than once. In my opinion neither was more particularly valid than the other in deciphering the madness that is my brain.
You are saying a psychopath is born? I would say a psychopath is created. Interesting either way as the prediliction to behavior is in the blueprint. When I was 10, I was an ENFJ, but that first-letter change is the only change I've managed during the time I've been aware of the test and taken it. Some major events made the 'I' stick, though. I can't 'trick' the test even when I take various versions of it.
Robert Hare claims that sociopaths can be redeemed but has many case histories of people who were just "born bad". He says they’re not suppressing social emotions through some defense mechanism but simply cannot ever feel them. I got into it with a developmental psychologist who claimed the issue was ‘the tough-minded baby who gets attachment disordered by a crappy mother’. I dunno - I lean more towards the addiction theory. Just as some people can have alcoholic genes, I say other folks have their power and control drives unleashed (for lack of a better word) by weak fear-based emotions and they become addicted to all the goodies that power and control can bring.
My mother adhered to the 'born bad' philosophy. There are plenty of mind doctors who can deconstruct any psychological problem down to attachment disorder. I like to transfer that to the mothers who grow so attached to their babies that they lose their own identity. Those mothers end up on psychiatrists' couches a week after their kid runs away from home never to be seen again. I think that's called 'The Siddhartha Complex'.
I don't like 'born bad' anymore than I like 'born with original sin'. The script is there at conception: How a parent reacts to it hardwires it negative or positive - as can traumatic events in one's life. It's a crap shoot, but the more we know the easier it is for shrinks to unravel the mess. That is, until we gain the science to determine in utero what traits the child has. What if the report came back with : "Born bad" stamped on it? Maybe DNA combination checks of both parents so they won't inadvertently spawn a naughty boy?
'..making people into what they are not..' The highway to hell.
In prehistoric times it was easy when everybody in the cave or village knew each other and their situation well and could determine when somebody really had to go. But today expensive ‘holding pens’ have to be built and/or funded to hold those who unacceptably consume more than they contribute. Socially adept psychopaths are the worst of all since they can leverage their societal damage thru acquired power and superhuman predatory skills. If prenatal termination is not an option, I don’t know where or how they could be kept.
I don't know if I've ever met a socially adept psychopath, but I have a socially inept psychopath. I met several, in fact, as a teacher but most were sociopaths. The one psychopath was a 6'5" black kid the state of SC had kicked out. Long story, but I ended up in a confrontation with him. I am small and fearless and had no fear dealing with this kid until I looked up and straight into his eyes. They were bottomless and dead. Something in my system kicked in so fast that I lost track of time and found myself surrounded by three male teachers and the principal - after I'd called for help on the walkie-talkie I ran to get. The creep did not threaten me other than with obvious jive while his sycophants looked on, but my subconcious went wild. After he was taken away and I was left talking with the two guys who came to the rescue, I felt water run down my sides. Then the walls started caving in. I have to state this to make the drama as wicked as it was, but I do not perspire much and never in my armpits. I had on a pair of khaki pants and the water 'ring' on those pants was easily five inches wide and three inches down. Primitive is all I can say. My mind was functioning as it should have in dealing with the guy, but my 'other' mind just flipped out.
Shoot 'em. The cavemen had it right.
#126.96.36.199.1 Meta on 2008-10-09 17:29 (Reply)
INFJs are said to note discrepancies and sinister patterns via implicit emotional memory and abstract reasoning abilities (their gut feel) as well as anybody.
Socially Adept Psychos are fairly rare in my business, where technical expertise is hard to fake, but near-psychos often move up the ranks.
I’ve met one ‘SAP’. She’d been a likeable and friendly work acquaintance for over 10 years before I learned the hard way that I had been never been anything more than a cultivated tool after she invited me to work for her. She’d smear good people who she perceived to be disloyal, cheated openly on her husband, stole ideas and credit, routinely lied, ran a sweatshop via manipulated taskmasters while rarely being in the office herself, and went after perceived enemies with a vengeance. Many years after escaping that nightmare (my only sin, aside from telling a few people about my reservations about her) I had to deal with her again from a position of relative equality and made the foolish mistake of trying to negotiate a peace. To my face she “forgot the whole thing”, then knifed me in the back, again. That’s when I realized she was “morally insane” – concepts such as trust and honor were totally alien to her – she apparently couldn’t ‘feel’ win/win scenarios. The other person had to lose in order for her to win, even if it involved great risk and created enemies.
I later met a couple other near-PAPs (Machiavellians, or manipulators) wishing I’d listened more to my gut afterwards and acted more quickly. So I hit the library and internet. I’m currently open to any decent personality typing system to figure out not just how to better spot Ps, but how they are able to spot and use sycophants, henchmen, or otherwise normal salt-of-the-earth folks, against others.
#188.8.131.52.1.1 commander clopfelter (Link) on 2008-10-09 18:54 (Reply)
Interesting quest you have there. I am doubting that you can find a test because the 'test' of a psychopath is his ability, near genius, to appear normal. You said you can be an INFJ at times. If you have those traits in action, or if those traits signal you while you are in action, listen to them and leave. INFJs, according to the MBTI, are the rarest of the groups and are almost telepathic in their ability to size people up. There is a flaw in that makeup as they are likely to think they can help a psychopath, and when they fail feel deep chagrin. So, if your armpits start to drizzle, hit the road and warn others. You'll be doing everyone a favor, though you'd have to switch to your ENFP mode to assure yourself you're doing the right thing.
Now I think I'll go do some research.
#184.108.40.206.1.1.1 Meta on 2008-10-10 00:52 (Reply)
The stakes are quite high in all of this, but betting against Pinker and Sailer would seem to be foolish. If we are able to avoid the destruction of human kind, refinement of measurement tools will no doubt continue pointing towards human predispositions. Oh, the old guard of the gender studies will fight on, drowning in the sea of overwhelming evidence that you really can't make someone into something they're not.
"...betting against Pinker and Sailer would seem to be foolish." I had similar thoughts. I might bet against Sailer on some topics, but not this one. And I wouldn't bet against Pinker on any topic.
Does the discussion of SAPS and PAPs remind anyone of any presidential candidates?
Most politicians have some SAPy qualities. They'll speak to their base to get elected but move to the tax and spend power center. How else do you explain Bill Clinton and Dick Morris, Bush and Rove, Kerry and McCain and Lieberman..