Following the Orchid Children Discussion

Audrey ThumbnailDavid Dobbs’ article in the Atlantic about orchid children and dandelion children has sparked a huge amount of interest. We summarized the article and later followed up with a link to an interview with Dobbs on WNYC radio. We also mentioned that the story was picked up by Lisa Belkin at Motherlode.

But there’s been lots more coverage (see, for example, this or this) and lots of discussion of the Orchid Hypothesis. You can read a terrific debate between Dobbs and David Shenk (also of the Atlantic) about the suitability of the orchid/dandelion analogy. The debate focusses on the dichotomy created by the orchid/dandelion imagery, which Dobbs explains is really more of a continuum, as are most such descriptors. In fact, it’s more like there are orchid genes and dandelion genes and each person will generally have some amount of orchid in them but also some amount of dandelion:

“Every metaphor has its limits, and one of the limits of the orchid versus dandelions metaphor is that it implies a binary, A or B. division of personality types determined by behavioral gene variants: you’re either orchid or dandelion. That’s not quite accurate, for there are several genes in question here, and because we each get a mix of variants among them, it would be a rare person that was all orchid, so to speak, or all dandelion…

For argument’s sake, let’s say there are 10. In all ten, the ‘dandelion’ form is the most common, with the orchid forms accounting for about 20 to 35 percent. So for any given one of these genes, you’re more likely to have the dandelion variant than the orchid. However, odds being what they are, you are also likely to have the orchid form in at least some of these genes. And since the overall effects on temperamental plasticity are presumed to be multigenic, more orchid genes you have, the more temperamentally malleable and mercurial you will be. In addition, the particular combination of genes in which you have the orchid form will color the nature of your malleability…

So it’s not that a person is either plastic or not. The malleability runs along a spectrum, and is a matter of hue as well as intensity. And the consequences of that malleability, of course, depend heavily on experience, context, etc. But the more malleable folks are shaped more dramatically by their experience and react more dramatically, in temperament and behavior, than the less malleable.”

Dobbs also has a post on his blog (Neuron Culture) about whether orchid children are the same as gifted children. He explains that the theory makes no comment on intellect but instead focusses on temperament. The More Child‘s @switchedonmom (who first drew my attention to the orchid article), posted a comment asking how the orchid hypothesis relates to Dabrowski’s Theory of OverexcitabilitiesAccording to @switchedonmom, Dobbs wrote her back,  saying:

“[T]hanks for drawing this to my attn. I want to return to the temperament/intelligence/giftedness issue, and this will help. I hope to get to it in the next week or two and post on it.”

So stay tuned for more on how orchid characteristics correlate with giftedness.

Finally, if you find this as interesting as I do, you might be happy to learn that Dobbs has a deal to write a book on the subject.

You may also be interested in these posts:

New Research Supports Orchid Children Hypothesis,
How Connected Parenting Can Help Orchid Children,
The Orchid Children Hypothesis: More Research

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