Answering the “So What?” question

A few days ago, the last wave of essays came in for marking, before I could take my winter break.  Apart from one or two essays, I found myself thinking throughout my marking, “Yes, but  So What?  Why are you referring to this study?”

So here is an example to help you make your answers into true answers to the question, and not just a description of all you know on a certain topic.

[Note, I am not suggesting that you have to use these studies, or that you should only use these studies – I am just showing you how  to use studies to make sure you are answering the question].

Title: Discuss the relationship between genetic inheritance and behaviour.

[Discuss: Offer a considered and balanced review that includes a range of arguments, factors or  hypotheses. Opinions or conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by appropriate evidence.]

Study So What?
Minnesota Twin Study (Bouchard et al, 1990). Large cross-cultural correlational study. Correlational studies are used to establish a relationship between variables, in this case between genetic inheritance and behaviour. (For the IB intelligence, as measured by IQ can count as behaviour here). Because the researchers do not manipulate an independent variable as in an experiment, no cause and effect can be determined, only a correlation.
The study suggested  that that 70% of a person’s intelligence is due to genetic inheritance and the other 30% could be attributed to other factors, as MZT twins (identical twins reared together)  and DZT twins (non-identical twins reared together) showed a 86% and 55% correlation respectively between these two factors. However, this is open to discussion, as because the twins were recruited through media coverage, they also may not have been a representative sample of twins. They also studied twins reared apart, but again this was problematic as it could not be known how much contact they had with each other, or how their environments compared.
Matsuzawa (2007)chimpanzee study Pairs of chimpanzees trained to recognize and order numbers on a computer monitor. Both humans and chimpanzee participants then had to order white squares from 1 to 9, by remembering where the squares originally appeared and in what sequence. The human participants made many more errors than the chimpanzees showing that the primates had excellent spatial memory skills, that were argued to be the result of genetic inheritance.
The argument, from evolutionary psychology, is that environment shapes the genes over a period of time, which in turn affects behaviour.  Through evolution, chimpanzees have developed spatial memory skills to adapt to their rainforest environment so that they can remember where food resources and dangers lie in their surroundings. As our environment has changed, spatial memory skills are not as essential to human survival. Instead, through evolution, humans have lost this skill in order to use brain capacity to develop language and memory skills, as our environment increasingly requires these skills. Again, this is open to discussion, as, like all evolutionary arguments, it supposes that humans actually had these (spatial memory) skills many years ago, but presents no evidence that this is in fact the case.

Your application of these two studies to the question asked will lead you to the conclusion that it is very difficult to determine the exact relationship between genetic inheritance and behaviour, as genetic inheritance is clearly mediated through environment.  To quantify the exact amount that any behaviour is down to genetic inheritance through studies using self-selected and non-representative samples leaves the results even more open to discussion.

Happy writing! 🙂

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