We know that genetic factors do not operate "instead of" environmental factors, they interact with them: GxE. Genetic differences do exist. But those differences aren't straitjackets holding us in place; they are bungee cords waiting to be stretched and stretched. When positive environmental triggers such as parental speaking are discovered, the appropriate response is not to caution against their possible irrelevance, but to embrace their influence on our genes-- and our lives. And now we know what some of those triggers are:
- Speaking to children early and often: This trigger was revealed in Hart and Risley's incontrovertible study and reinforced by the University of North Carolina's Abecedarian Project, which provided environmental enrichment to children from birth, with the study subjects showing substantial gains compared with a control
- Reading early and often: In 2003, a national study reported the positive influence of early parent- to- child reading, regardless of parental education level. In 2006, a similar study again found the same thing about reading, this time ruling out any effects of race, ethnicity, class, gender, birth order, early education, maternal education, maternal verbal ability, and maternal warmth.
- Nurturance and encouragement: Hart and Risley also found that, in the first four years after birth, the average child from a professional family receives 560,000 more instances of encouraging feedback than discouraging feedback; a working- class child receives merely 100,000 more encouragements than discouragements; a welfare child receives 125,000 more discouragementsthan encouragements.
- Setting high expectations: As Sherman and Key found in 1932, "children develop only as the environment demands development."
- Embracing failure: Coaches, CEOs, teachers, parents, and psychologists all now recognize the importance of pushing their charges to the limit, and just beyond. Setbacks must be seen as learning tools rather than signs of permanent built- in limitation.
- Encouraging a "growth mindset: Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has built her prestigious career on the importance of individ-uals believingthat their own abilities are malleable-- not fixed from birth. Many studies show that the more a person believes that abilities can be developed, the greater the success that person will eventually enjoy.