Genes and environment have equal influence in learning

A UF professor of pediatrics explains why a child’s aptitude to learn is much more complicated than the socio-economic status of his or her caregivers.

kids in classroom
Image: Jeffrey Roth, University of Florida

According to a new research by the University of Florida along with Northwestern University and Stanford University, the confluence of genes and environment that shape a child’s cognitive ability is not so clear-cut; it is far more elusive and complex than currently understood.

Scientists analyzed birth and school records of 24,000 twins and nearly 275,000 siblings born in Florida between 1994 and 2002. As did previous researchers who examined genetic and environmental influences of cognitive development, we focused on a very large set of twins and siblings.

Twins and siblings close in age enabled us to unravel the part of qualities and condition being developed of intellectual capacity. Scientists did not find any confirmation that social class assumed all the more a part in instructive execution for poor children than for rich ones.

While understudies in the higher income groups performed superior to anything understudies in the lower wage gatherings, the relative impact of hereditary and natural contrasts was the same crosswise over gatherings.

What is the significance of our findings? According to David Figlio, dean of the School of Education at Social Policy at Northwestern and lead author of the study, we did not confirm that environmental factors mitigate the effects of genetics on cognitive development. Environmental differences are just as important for students from affluent backgrounds as students from poorer backgrounds.

Figlio said, “Our findings, however, do not contradict the overall pattern that parental socio-economic status is associated with children’s cognitive development. Among twins and siblings, pairs who were close in age, standardized math and reading scores increased proportionally along with mothers’ years of education beyond high school.”

Jeremy Freese, a Stanford University sociology professor and second author of our paper, noted that “being able to say that genes matter more for one group than another is appealing partly for its simplicity. We suspect the truth is more complicated: Some genes may matter more in wealthier families, and other genes may matter more in poorer families, so there’s no overall characterization one can provide.”

Jeffrey Roth, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Florida, “In the near future, a deeper understanding of the interplay between genetics and environment will become available. With the advent of more specific genetic information, we may be able to map more precisely the gene-environment connection. Such information will improve the ability for researchers to forecast how children achieve their intellectual potential.”

The results were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.