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Title: An Examination of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Intelligence


Intelligence is a complex trait that is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Throughout history, researchers have explored the role of genetics and the environment in shaping intelligence, with the aim of understanding the relative contributions of each. In this assignment, we will assess various aspects related to the influence of genetics and environment on intelligence.

Question 1: What is the heritability of intelligence?

The heritability of intelligence refers to the proportion of variation in intelligence that is attributable to genetic factors within a population. Heritability estimates provide insights into the extent to which genes play a role in individual differences in intelligence. Current research suggests that intelligence is moderately heritable, with estimates typically ranging between 50-80% (Plomin & Deary, 2015).

Twin and adoption studies have been instrumental in determining the heritability of intelligence. Adoption studies compare the resemblance of adopted individuals to their biological and adoptive parents to estimate the genetic influence on intelligence. Twin studies compare the similarity of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins to estimate the role of genetics and the shared environment. Both types of studies consistently point towards a significant genetic contribution to intelligence (Plomin & Spinath, 2004).

However, it is important to note that heritability estimates are population-specific and do not provide information about the influence of genes in a specific individual. They also do not imply that genetics is the sole determinant of intelligence. Environmental factors interact with genetic predispositions to shape intelligence.

Question 2: How do environmental factors contribute to intelligence?

While genetics play a substantial role in determining intelligence, environmental factors also contribute significantly to cognitive development. Environmental influences encompass a wide range of factors, including prenatal conditions, parenting styles, socioeconomic status, educational opportunities, and cultural and language experiences.

Prenatal factors, such as maternal nutrition, exposure to toxins, and maternal stress, can affect the developing brain and subsequently influence cognitive abilities (Wadhwa et al., 2009). The quality of postnatal environments, especially during early childhood, has a profound impact on cognitive development. Research has shown that children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to have lower IQ scores compared to their more affluent counterparts (Noble et al., 2005).

Parenting styles, educational opportunities, and language exposure are crucial environmental factors that influence intelligence. Supportive and stimulating parenting practices, as well as the quality of educational experiences, have been found to enhance cognitive abilities (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Brooks-Gunn & Markman, 2001). Likewise, growing up in an environment rich in language exposure and cognitive stimulation provides children with opportunities to develop their intellectual potential (Hart & Risley, 1995).

Question 3: How do genetic and environmental factors interact?

The nature-nurture debate revolves around the interaction between genetic and environmental factors in shaping intelligence. The interactionist approach suggests that genetic and environmental factors influence intelligence in a complex, intertwined manner.

Gene-environment correlation refers to the phenomenon where genetic predispositions influence a person’s exposure to particular environments. For example, individuals with a genetic inclination towards higher intelligence may seek out intellectually stimulating environments. This gene-environment correlation can magnify the effects of genetic factors on intelligence (Bouchard & McGue, 2003).

Gene-environment interaction occurs when the effects of genetic factors on intelligence are dependent on specific environmental conditions. For instance, a particular genetic variant may predispose individuals to higher intelligence, but this effect may only be observed in a nurturing and stimulating environment (Turkheimer et al., 2003). The interaction between genetics and environment is thought to be bidirectional, as genetic factors can influence the selection and creation of environmental conditions that further shape intelligence.

Question 4: Can intelligence be changed by manipulating environmental factors?

Environmental interventions have been explored as a means to enhance intelligence. Early intervention programs that focus on providing enriched educational experiences to children from disadvantaged backgrounds have shown promising results in improving cognitive abilities (Heckman et al., 2010). Similarly, interventions targeting parenting practices and the quality of the home environment have been linked to improved cognitive outcomes (Landry et al., 2003).

It is important to note that while environmental interventions can have a positive impact on intelligence, they are not a means to fundamentally alter a person’s genetic potential. Genetic factors still place limits on the extent to which environmental changes can improve cognitive abilities. Nonetheless, optimizing environmental conditions can have substantial benefits for cognitive development.


Intelligence is influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The heritability of intelligence estimates the extent to which genetics contributes to individual differences in intelligence. However, environmental factors, including prenatal conditions, parenting styles, socioeconomic status, educational opportunities, and language exposure also play a significant role. The interaction between genetic and environmental factors in shaping intelligence highlights the complexity of this trait. Environmental interventions can improve cognitive abilities, but within the limits imposed by genetic factors.