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Math Biotech Education

About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA 227

Posted by samzenpus
from the in-the-cards dept.
Taco Cowboy writes with this story about new research that finds a strong genetic component to a child's ability in math and reading. "You may think you're better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you're probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person's ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person's overall ability. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. The researchers administered a set of math and verbal tests to the children and then compared the performance of different sets of twins. They found that the twins' scores — no matter if they were high or low — were twice as similar among pairs of identical twins as among pairs of fraternal twins. The results indicated that approximately half of the children's math and reading ability stemmed from their genetic makeup.

A complementary analysis of unrelated kids corroborated this conclusion — strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities. What's more, the genes responsible for math and reading ability appear to be numerous and interconnected, not specifically targeted toward one set of skills. These so-called 'generalist genes' act in concert to determine a child's aptitude across multiple disciplines. The finding that one's propensities for math and reading go hand in hand may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn't. People often feel that they possess skills in only one area simply because they perform slightly worse in the other."
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About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:43AM (#47646637)

    strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities

    and these are unequally distributed in different races

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @08:54AM (#47646749)

    Just proves that all men an NOT created equal, no matter what the PC crowd would have you believe.

    What Mr. Lincoln left out was the rest of the statement, "in the eyes of the law".
    That omission has wasted millions of dollars for higher education for those that can't learn. Not to mention the money wasted on "equal opportunity" and "head start" programs.

    Some people just can't believe their eyes.

  • The surprise... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:01AM (#47646811) Homepage

    Sure, you can stunt someone, butof course our abilities - our potentials - are genetic. The surprise would be if environment has any effect beyond the ability to stunt an otherwise present potential. Why do PC nuts always hyperventilate, when aptitudes turn out to be inborn.

    The link between reading and math runs, as nearly as I can tell from this and other studies, over general intelligence. If you have an IQ of 130, likely you are pretty good at both. If you have an IQ of 80, not so much.

  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:02AM (#47646821)
    They have not shown a causal relationship.

    What's more confusing is they state "..results highlight the potential role of the learning environment in contributing to differences in a child’s cognitive abilities at age twelve." This indicates that if there is a genetic component, it is largely irrelevant as the learning environment has the greater impact.

    Answer in search of a problem.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:08AM (#47646885)

    I was typing something really insightful about this and the stupid page reloaded and it all disappeared.

    CTRL-R is a bitch. Can't handle a simple computer keyboard? Perhaps you're one of the "other half".

  • Re:False. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:23AM (#47647049)

    Or maybe there's real-world ugly truths that the utopianists and progressives refuse to accept.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:24AM (#47647053)

    First of all, they never claimed causation. The title of the article is "The correlation between reading and mathematics ability at age twelve has a substantial genetic component". This is in contrast to something like "genetic causes correlation between..."

    This indicates that if there is a genetic component, it is largely irrelevant as the learning environment has the greater impact.

    No it isn't. Where does it say that learning environment has a greater impact? And even if that were true, greater just means > 50%. if 40% were due to genetic, that's a huge! Of course, we still don't know for sure, and the authors were careful not to state otherwise.

    It's an interesting study, and they have made serious effort to tease apart environmental impact vs genetic impact by looking at fraternal vs identical twins. It's science... it's meant to shed light on a question (and we know what it is here). It's not meant to solve a problem.

  • by bradrum (1639141) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:24AM (#47647057)

    More confirmation bias crap. A ton of people just sit around waiting for something that fits their beliefs to post about or up vote.

    Usually people that say this kind of shit get their money and claim that it is "wasted" on others. Because no one else has their genius right?

  • Meaning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:24AM (#47647059)

    I've got a kid who is clearly ahead of the class with mathematics but clearly behind the class with reading. So, these studies probably mean it isn't a fundamental ability problem, so where do I go from here?

    Aptitude is only half the story. The other half is being interested in the subject.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:39AM (#47647179) Homepage

    They have not shown a causal relationship.

    True.

    This indicates that if there is a genetic component, it is largely irrelevant as the learning environment has the greater impact.

    False. I'm unclear how you came to that conclusion based on the quote you highlighted. It does not say that learning environment has a *greater* impact. It says learning environment has *some* impact. Overall, but it is less than or equal to the importance of genetics.

    This result is consistent with other studies on the topic. Unfortunately, this fact pisses people off, especially educators. (Understandably since it is their job to educate everyone equally, and especially to raise the level of the poorest performers). But it is well correlated at this point. Think back to high school: everyone realized this at some point - there were some students who just seemed smarter. Some of them didn't even have to work for it. It sucked if you sat in one of these kids' shadow. It doesn't mean hard work doesn't pay off, it doesn't mean you should not invest in your children, but it does mean that just like in sports, your genes are as big a contributor as the environment.

    On that note: why are people willing to accept this in sports, but not in academics? It's totally cool to say something about Nigerian runners having long legs, or say "white men can't jump, hahaha" or "Asians are short" but if you say some people are genetically gifted in intelligence sets off everyone's alarm bells.

    Excerpt from Freakanomics [businessinsider.com]:

    Eight factors that correlate to higher test scores
            Highly educated parents
            Parents have high socioeconomic status
            Mother was thirty or older at the time of first child's birth
            Child had low birth weight
            Parents speak English at home
            Child is adopted
            Parents are involved in the PTA
            Child has many books in the home

    Eight factors that do NOT correlate with higher test scores:
            Family is intact
            Family's recent move to a better neighborhood
            Mother did not work between birth and kindergarten
            Child attended Head Start
            Parents bring children to museums regularly
            Child is regularly spanked
            Child frequently watches television
            Parents read to him nearly every day

  • Re:False. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:48AM (#47647255) Homepage Journal

    Or maybe there's real-world ugly truths that the utopianists and progressives refuse to accept.

    Well, possibly, but experience teaches that flat-out racism is a more likely culprit. We've seen people of all races and ethnic background perform at a very high level at every possible field, including Jewish and Italian basketball players and African-American pure mathematicians. What Murray (and you) are always looking for is the ceiling and floor. That's racist.

    Plus, we've learned that there is one additional defining characteristic of racists: They will go to great lengths to try to rationalize their bigotry. And that, was my point. You've confirmed that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:50AM (#47647281)

    strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities

    and these are unequally distributed in different races

    The word "race does not appear anywhere in the study. The word "ethnicity" appears once in the TEDS study - they only studied people who identified as white with English as their primary language.

    So, I ask you, exactly which genes or alleles or associated with academic abilities (name them) are unequally distributed in different races?
    What study demonstrates this?
    This is a real question. I don't know the answer. Because you made the statement, I'm supposing that you know the answer.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Monday August 11, 2014 @09:53AM (#47647309)
    You are confusing two different things: 1) the assumption that all people have equal intellectual ability (which practically nobody believes), with: 2) the assertion that only those with high potential are deserving of the nourishment needed to reach one's own personal potential. I can see different levels of intellectual ability in my own children; do I pull the less-able one from math? No! If anything, she will benefit more from the extra time devoted to mastering times tables than my other kids would benefit from learning a little more geometry.

    Secondly, you completely confused about equal opportunity. There is nothing in this study that says people of equal potential will reach equal levels of attainment if the potential of one is developed while the potential of the other is neglected or discouraged.

  • That's the problem with all IQ tests, or "performance" tests: they don't take into account that there are many forms of intelligence.

    It's only a "problem" per se if you're attempting to use the tests for things for which they are not designed. The IQ tests don't test for creativity, which is the primary skill needed for problem-solving in the real world. They test for the other surrounding skills, which without creativity are good mostly for following orders. That's the only part with which "the establishment" is truly concerned. See also: the state of public education today in the USA.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:22AM (#47647609)
    Do you?

    "That omission has wasted millions of dollars for higher education for those that can't learn." - Bzzt, wrong. There's nothing in this research that claims anybody "can't learn."

    "Not to mention the money wasted on 'equal opportunity' and 'head start' programs." - Bzzt, wrong again, and 0 for 2. There's nothing in this research that shows equal opportunity or head start programs don't help, much less that they are a "waste."

    Your post, and the one we are responding to, are good examples of why people have become "PC" and afraid of certain facts - because history is so full of people with political ends who (unconsciously) twist the facts to support their subjective beliefs, sometimes with disastrous results.

  • by ideonexus (1257332) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:52AM (#47647897) Homepage Journal

    That omission has wasted millions of dollars for higher education for those that can't learn. Not to mention the money wasted on "equal opportunity" and "head start" programs.

    What a mind-boggling conclusion to draw from the article. If a human-being's intelligence is only 50% influenced by their environment, you think we should deny them the environment to develop that 50%? If that's you're reasoning, I suspect you would be one of the people being denied these social benefits.

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:31AM (#47648255)

    Perhaps she's good at something else but doesn't like doing it, or perhaps it won't lead to a lucrative career? If she's slower at learning math, it's obvious she will need to spend more time at it to get the same proficiency as her sibling.

    Being human is about overcoming the disadvantages nature has imposed on you, not embracing them.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Monday August 11, 2014 @02:03PM (#47649745)
    I would say that 'being human' is about adapting to your situation. That can be overcoming your disadvantages by sheer force, but it can also be finding a different path to where your disadvantages don't matter, or are even an advantage. There is no reason that we should all be striving towards having the same skillset, though.

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