Hard science person : iamverysmart

Hard science person : iamverysmart

The coolest research I ever encountered in grad school was the Abecedarian Project out of UNC — Chapel Hill. I have nothing to do with childhood development just happened to catch the lecture in my building as my uni had just hired the PIs.

The idea was to see how significant pre-K education was to kids. They recruited something like thousands of kids across five states from all races and social classes (follow up projects went on for decades). They made sure all kids got nutrition and medical care. Then they gave the test group kids brain stimulation exercises a few hours a day, five days a week, from 15 months to 5 years of age.

They broke the IQ down by parents educational level. From memory (may be a little off), the control group scores were something like:

  • Parents didn’t finish HS: 82

  • Parents finished HS: 94

  • Parents had AS or technical degree: 101

  • Parents finished 4-year college: 110

For the test group the scores were:

  • Parents didn’t finish HS: 107

  • Parents finished HS: 107

  • Parents had AS or technical degree: 108

  • Parents finished 4-year college: 110

The difference was almost completely erased. But the kids of college educated parents got no benefit. The idea was that those parents basically gave the kids significant stimulation anyway. The kids of high-school dropouts did not normally get this stimulation.

The effect was life long, tested decades later they still had a huge advantage. The kids were more likely to get college degrees, ans work in technical fields. They were also less likely to do hard drugs, be incarcerated, or become obese. Remember the program stopped at age five so those kids from shitty homes had the same shitty childhood they would have had anyway, but they still succeeded where the control students didn’t.

They concluded the talk by daydreaming of a future where all kids got this program as part of public education. It would drastically cut crime, improve health, increase the national IQ by 10+ points, and eliminate the incredible disadvantage that poor kids have. It would also cost a few billion a year…

Also remember this program accounted for nutrition and medical care, both of which are huge issues when it comes to IQ.

So when you look at super impoverished nations with poor quality food and diseases that stunt development like hookworms*, with parents who have little education themselves and no early educational opportunities for kids, it is no wonder their national average is so low. Maybe genetics play a role, but until you account for all the other factors you can’t assume that at all.

  • Hookworms were common in the American South and have such a profound impact on intelligence and motivation that it is theorized the dumb lazy Southerner stereotype came about because of it. Africa still has a ton of problems with hookworms see map.

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