Shiny Happy Dutch People Make Shiny Happy Dutch Babies

Dutch children are the happiest in the developed world. A Brit and an American raising children in the Netherlands ask why:

When it came to Dutch children rating their own happiness levels, more than 95 per cent considered themselves happy. Several other research surveys have likewise highlighted the positive benefits of growing up in the Netherlands – Britain’s Child Poverty Action Group and the World Health Organisation, for example. The Unicef report was a follow- up to one conducted in 2007, in which the Netherlands were first heralded as a prime example of childhood prosperity. The UK and the US ranked in the two lowest positions.

In addition, new research also suggests that Dutch babies are happier than their American counterparts. After examining the temperamental differences between babies born in the US and the Netherlands, Dutch babies were found to be more contented – laughing, smiling and cuddling more – than American babies. Dutch babies were also easier to soothe, while American babies displayed more fear, sadness and frustration. Psychologists attribute this discrepancy to the different cultural mores of child-rearing in the two countries. It’s quite astonishing to us that no one seems to be making more of a fuss about this.

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Dutch kids have little or no homework at primary school.
  •  Are not just seen but also heard.
  • Are trusted to ride their bikes to school on their own.
  • Are allowed to play outside unsupervised.
  • Have regular family meals.
  • Get to spend more time with their mothers and fathers.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures and are happy with second-hand toys.
  • And last but not least, get to eat chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) for breakfast.

The Netherlands have a reputation for being a liberal country with a tolerance of sex, drugs and alcohol, yet beneath this lies a closely guarded secret: the Dutch are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who place the child firmly at the centre. Parents have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals rather than as extensions of themselves. They understand that achievement doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, but that happiness can cultivate achievement. The Dutch have reined in the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves.

The first caveat is, as always, genetic confounds. The main reason Dutch children are happier is that they were born to Dutch parents. The Netherlands has been one of the most successful societies on earth -- often the most successful -- for 5-6 centuries now. The Dutch are tall, good-looking, smart, happy, healthy, and have moderate, prudent, sensible habits. They avoid unnecessary risk, have strong sense of social responsibility, accept limits on their freedom (such as high taxes or bicycle lanes crowding out cars) to enhance overall flourishing, and take care of each other. These are all hallmarks of societies made up of people with high general levels of intelligence, risk-avoidance, ability to delay gratification, and impulse control. As this landmark 2015 study (whose lead authors are Dutch!) shows, all of these traits are heritable to a certain extent, usually between 30 and 50%.

But still, I'd be willing to bet there's a pretty big environmental component. There are hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch babies being raised in the Netherlands. My guess would be that they tend to do worse than ethnically Dutch children, but better than children in their own home cultures. We can safely assume that their own home cultures are more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands, because almost every other country on earth is more chaotic and less prosperous than the Netherlands.

If anyone knows any good studies on this, I'd be interested to learn of them.


Genetic Confounds and the Causes of Crime

Criminologist Brian Boutwell on the genetic influences on behavior, including criminal behavior:

Variety in our gene pool matters when we seek to understand why some people can dunk a basketball or compose a sonnet, and why some people persistently break the law. The effects of genetic differences make some people more impulsive and shortsighted than others, some people more healthy or infirm than others, and, despite how uncomfortable it might be to admit, genes also make some folks more likely to break the law than others.

...Imagine that you’re curious whether certain parenting styles influence self-control in children. It’s not hard to find evidence that the way parents treat their children is associated with the child’s level of self-control later in life. But parents don’t just pass on life lessons for learning self-control to their kids, they also pass along their genetic material. Half of your genetic material was inherited from Mom and half came from Dad. If you ignore the element of genetic transmission, you might falsely attribute any correlation between parent and child as being due to social transmission.

The way parents treat children is, in part, a product of their own personality and temperament. Personality is partly heritable, so the observation that parents and children tend to have similar levels of self-control could be due to social transmission, genetic transmission, or both.

Most of the evidence about the causes of crime overlooks genetic transmission. Yet, some research has found that once you account for genetic influences on self-control, previously identified social transmission effects (read: parenting) on the child’s self-control become unstable. In other words, when you control for genetic transmission (the alternative explanation that most criminologists overlook), the effect of parenting on self-control diminishes or goes away entirely.

Consider another type of parenting effect — one that shows up in the news frequently — spanking. Not long ago, we examined the relationship between spanking and behavioral problems in children. Once we controlled for genetic transmission, there was no spanking effect in the way that most scholars think about spanking effects. Put another way, our evidence did not support the conclusion that spanking causes behavioral problems in the sense that most psychologists would argue.

The conundrum of heritability transcends parenting. For instance, it’s obvious that crime isn’t randomly distributed across neighborhoods. It seems to be a relatively stable factor that defines an area over many generations. Equally nonrandom, though, is the process by which people sort themselves into neighborhoods. People cluster into areas based on a host of factors, including the primary factor of income. Here’s the kicker, if any of the traits that affect residential choices are heritable and you ignore that influence, your findings regarding the impact of neighborhood factors on crime could be in jeopardy.

A remarkable study in Sweden recently found that highly disadvantaged neighborhoods had more crime. Yet that neighborhood effect disappeared when risk factors concentrated within certain families were taken into account. Once again, social transmission effects weakened (and, in this case disappeared) when other factors like genetic transmission were controlled for. Does this finding guarantee that similar results will emerge in other samples around the world? No. But criminologists rarely consider the possibility that their own studies could be polluted by hidden genetic effects.

The more technical term for this phenomenon is genetic confounding, and there is reason to believe that it is endemic to much of the research coming out of the social sciences in general, and criminology in particular. Our own research into the issue suggests that even a modest amount of unmeasured genetic influence can pollute and infect your findings. As a result, much of what we think we know about the causes of crime could be overstated or just flat wrong.

I first became interested in genetic influences on behavior and opinion when I was writing my book on the death penalty. I wanted to know what kinds of argument and information change peoples' views on capital punishment, and found that the answer was, basically, none. The typical arguments people use against capital punishment are human rights, cost, reliability, deterrence, possibility of executing the innocent. And study after study showed that these arguments usually only changed a small percentage of peoples' minds, and that the changes were often temporary.

One reason for that is that your views on capital punishment are influenced by your genes. Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 -- the most important scientific achievement of the past 20 years -- researchers have been able to tease out the genetic influences on all sorts of behavior and personality traits. There's no reason that should exclude crime -- in fact, the kinds of personality traits which lead to a higher likelihood of crime are well-known to be heritable.

Every time you read about a social-science survey on the effects of education, parenting, or environment on this or that human trait, you should scan the report for any signs that the authors took genetic confounds into account. If they didn't the report is worthless. It's that simple.


They Wended Their Way to Texas

Fffff

Reading an interesting blog post about Danish genetic structure (they're very homogeneous), I came across mention of the Wends. Ignorant clown that I am, I had no idea what they were. It turns out the Wends really got around, as befits Slavic nomads. In fact, there's a Wendish Heritage Museum in rural Lee County, in South Central Texas:

The Museum is a complex of buildings which are connected by porches. In the center is a new facility with a display interpreting the history of the Wends. It also houses the Offices, Gift Shop, Library, and Archives. To the right and left are the old St. Paul school buildings. Exhibits include relics from the old country and Texas. Folk dress of Lusatia, the traditional Texas wedding dresses, and the beautiful Wendish Easter eggs are a few of the colorful exhibits.

Outdoor exhibits include two log buildings and farming equipment.The 1856 log room, built by the Kurio family, originally part of a dog trot home, is furnished as a bed room. A section of the earlier 1855 room is also preserved on the Museum grounds. The Mertink family log room is used to exhibit carpenter’s and farming tools.

The Lillie Moerbe Caldwell Memorial Library specializes in the history and genealogy of the Wendish people. It welcomes donations of family histories and genealogies.The Archives includes rare books in Wendish and German, manuscripts, personal papers, and a photographic collection.

The Texas Wendish Heritage Museum preserves the history of the Texas Wends, Slavic immigrants from Lusatia, an area in eastern Germany. Today the Wends of Lusatia are called Sorbs.

Wendish families began arriving in Texas in 1849, followed by a group of 35 in 1853. In 1854, a congregation of over 500 Wends immigrated on a chartered sailing ship, the Ben Nevis. This group founded a new homeland on 4,254 acres in Bastrop County (now Lee County) and named their new town Serbin. Other Wendish towns and congregations were soon organized.Many more Wends immigrated during the second half of the 19th Century.

The Museum is located in historic Serbin, near the St. Paul Lutheran Church, school and cemetery. The present Church building, built in 1871, is one of the painted churches of South Central Texas.

It's heartening to see how active the site is: the Wendish fest is coming up on September 25. Some highlights of last year's fest:

Wendish-Fest-2015-8-image-montage

And here's a recipe for Wendish noodles from 'The Noodle Lady':

[The] following is the recipe for homemade Wendish noodles that Hattie Mitschke Schautschick learned to make as a child cooking alongside her grandma – Anna Matthijetz Mitschke – and her mama – Louise Mertink Mitschke. Hattie, as I’m sure you well know, is known around here as the Noodle Lady and the one in charge of producing the noodles we sell in our gift shop.

Two things to know upfront about making noodles: (1) If you use yard eggs, you can usually eliminate the water; and (2) try to avoid making noodles when it’s damp outside – the weather affects how fast they’ll dry.

  • 3 eggs
  • Water to fill half-eggshell 3 times (about 6 tablespoons)
  • 3 cups flour plus additional for rolling out dough
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Break the eggs into a large bowl, saving the most intact half-eggshell. Beat eggs and water together. Add 3 cups flour and the salt to form stiff dough. Roll out dough into a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick on a well-floured cutting board or countertop. Allow dough to dry about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.

When dough is dry but still pliable, cut into long sections about 3 inches wide. Take 3-inch sections and cut into thin strips about 1/8-inch wide. Cut strips into preferred length for cooking. Place cut noodles on a dish towel and fluff noodles so air can circulate around them. Allow cut noodles to dry thoroughly, at least overnight or longer if necessary. If noodles won’t be cooked right away, store them in a sealed plastic bag in either the pantry or the freezer for up to six months.

When ready to cook noodles, bring chicken broth to a boil in a large pot. Stir in butter, parsley and dried noodles. Cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until tender. Be careful not to overcook. Remove pot from heat, leaving lid on, and let sit another 10 to 15 minutes. Do not drain. Makes 1 pound of noodles or 20 servings.

I love tiny museums, and I plan to visit this one next time I'm in the Lone Star State.


"Substantial" Genetic Influence on Choice of A-Levels

Your genes play a key role in deciding whether you decide to take A-levels and which subjects you decide to take them in:

We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52–80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35–76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

This result would surprise and probably alarm many Germans, but they won't hear about it. One of the problems with the insular clique of German mainstream journalists is the blinders they wear. The majority studied sociology, German literature, comparative literature, political theory, history, philosophy, or some other liberal-arts subject. There, they learned plenty about Kant and Mann, but nothing about economics, the military, or hard science.

I think this explains why German journalism on these areas is often terrible. Conditioned by their highly moralized culture and the ideological slant of liberal-arts education, they immediately seek out the underlying moral 'lesson' to be drawn from nuclear research, or the Higgs boson, or gene therapy, etc. They may spend a few paragraphs actually explaining what is going on from a scientific perspective (often getting key things wrong), but before they're even done with that, they start reciting their tired old platitudes (this is what mankind gets for trying to play God, nature's way is always the best, human dignity is the prime directive, etc.) and canned Lessons of History™.

And that goes triple for genetics. If they did learn anything about genetics in their seminars, it was usually accompanied by stern, moralizing lectures about how the Nazis used genetic pseudo-science to justify genocide. The result is a nearly-unshakable belief in the discredited 'blank slate' theory of human variation (i.e., that it's all caused by nurture, not nature). Anyone who points to the ever-growing mountain of evidence that genes play a crucially important role in human personality, achievement, and behavior is automatically assumed to be a crypto-eugenicist until proven otherwise.

I don't have a solution to this problem, but I suppose scholarships and training programs for aspiring science journalists might be something to think about.


Robert Plomin Explains the Impact of Genes on Educational Performance

Professor Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at King's College London, explains in this fascinating Guardian podcast that genes explain about 60% of differences between children in educational achievement. It applies to all areas, from math to humanities.

These differences show up very early, as early as 4 years old. Different schools or teaching methods explain at most 20%. Plomin notes that educator training materials which tout unproven educational methods are worthless. And sets out a program for genetically screening children to direct educational resources at those who most need them, in a personalized manner.

He is the co-author of G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Educations and Achievement