Affluenza and the College Admissions Scandal

Dr. Keith Witt Perspectives, Psychology, Video, Witt & Wisdom: Live with Dr. Keith, World Affairs Leave a Comment


ike most major controversies, the recent college admissions scandal that’s been in the headlines over the last few weeks offers a fascinating way to witness the real-time breakdowns that can occur between our various legal and institutional systems, our various sets of cultural values, and our own most cherished principles. These breakdowns often reveal the inner strata of our collective kosmic address, offering precious insight into the major patterns, forces, and inequities that often drive our political and cultural discourse, influence our views, and inform our trust in our governing institutions. And the way we react to these scandals often reveal our own interior strata, giving us an opportunity to identify whatever virtues, shadows, and narratives that might be shaping our response, either consciously or unconsciously.

Watch as Dr. Keith and Corey explore this most recent admissions scandal through the lens of integral psychology, typology, and the intimate interplay between culture, genetically influenced personality traits, and personal choice.

The admissions scandals reflects parents trying to externally shape their kids’ development rather than figure out what types their kids are and supporting healthy versions of those types. Culture heavily weights desirability of some types (like students, highly ambitious individuals, and extroverts) over others (like introverts, low ambitious individuals, and many artists). Most personality traits, including academic success, TV watching, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness are around 50% heritable, and much of the other 50% of variance is attributed to non-systematic effects.

According to twin researcher Robert Plomin (author of Blueprint), parents have less influence than other non-systematic effects–which doesn’t make sense to me in terms of my experience and reading of other research (especially attachment research). One of his findings is that type of child influences what types of parenting are evoked by whatever types parents are, thus making childhood experience heavily cocreated by the temperaments of parents and children–in other words, genetically determined. That being said, I think it begins to make sense when we factor in personal choices, both unconscious and conscious, that individuals make in development. I think these track in his research as non-systematic effects that are indirectly determined by types of parenting–growth mindsets, emphases on discovering who their children are and supported healthy versions, and resisting cultural standards for uniform models of success.

The admissions scandal is the tip of the iceberg

The college admission scandals involved multiple parents pulling strings, bribing, cheating, and lying to get their children into high ranking colleges. This is the tip of the privilege iceberg that’s is as old as nepotism and human history. We are genetically programmed to give more rights/care/resources to those most genetically and tribally connected to us. Also, morally, people tend to feel more exhilaration when successfully cheating than guilt, and all of us have certain areas where we break rules (and even laws) when it suits us or when we believe our moral compass is superior to the collective’s for us (not necessarily for everyone). One of the more interesting parts of the underlying forces at work in this scandal is the question of how much the values of these families and individuals were culturally determined–internalized LLQ values pressuring individuals to instantiate states with impulses to conform to personally important success/status standards.

-Dr. Keith Witt

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Dr. Keith Witt

About Keith Witt

Dr. Keith Witt is a Licensed Psychologist, teacher, and author who has lived and worked in Santa Barbara, CA. for over forty years. Dr. Witt is also the founder of The School of Love.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is the proverbial "man behind the curtain". He is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996.

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