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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 @09:43AM (#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 @09:54AM (#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.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:23AM (#47647045)

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

        So what does the Mac crowd believe?

      • by operagost (62405)
        What he actually left out was the next phrase in the sentence, "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights", which is not quite the same as saying "in the eyes of the law" as these are also known as "natural rights" while "in the eyes of the law" would suggest the presence of a government.
      • by timeOday (582209) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:53AM (#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.

        • by stdarg (456557)

          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.

          Out of curiosity, why do you think that? It seems to me if your daughter spent that extra time working on something she enjoys and is good at, and the other kid spends extra time working on math, they'd both benefit more than if they spent extra time working on what they are not interested in. Of course some minimum level of achievement is necessary in all subjects, but it seems like you're talking about how time should be budgeted when going beyond the minimum.

          I'm reminded a bit of some economics class I t

      • Well on one side, we have the PC crowd with their "everyone is really the same, so anyone can succeed" and it's just the Big Bad Meanies holding some people back because of their race/religion/whatever and take away their will to succeed.

        On the other, we have the Meritocracy crowd, with their "anyone can succeed, they just need to work at it" and the Big Bad Meanies want to punish the people who succeeded and take away their will to succeed.

        The idea that some people simply aren't going to succeed, period, i

      • by ideonexus (1257332) on Monday August 11, 2014 @11:52AM (#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 guises (2423402)
        Proves that? One anonymous poster's declaration that the researchers are hiding something *proves* your racist nonsense? The researchers did a pretty standard comparison of data on twins to data on the general population, there's a good chance they didn't even have racial information.
    • And you know this how? *Your* genius? Your ESP?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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 wierd_w (1375923)

        It would be trivial to get this information:

        The human genome project aims to map distributions of known gene alleles across the entire genomic space of the human species; and there are many studies that track individual and sets of alleles across geographic and ethnic group boundries.

        This study focuses on a single regional and ethnic group, but narrows action of a set of alleles.

        Comparing both data sets to each other, will give you the difference in distribution of those alleles across the regional and ethn

    • by mjm1231 (751545)

      Except that, genetically, there is no such thing as race.

      • Well, that's a bit absurd to claim.

        I can certainly genetically differentiate between a Swede and a Spaniard and a Moroccan just as well as I can genetically differentiate between a dalmation, a basset and a corgie.

        But this has more to do with regional origin than the relative colour of one's skin, they ARE related and to deny the mere fact is just silly.

      • That is a false statement.

      • by EllisDees (268037)

        Well, no.

        http://www.penguin.com/book/a-troublesome-inheritance-by-nicholas-wade/9781594204463

    • by pitchpipe (708843)

      And what they did not publish[...]

      strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities

      and these are unequally distributed in different races

      [Citation badly needed to justify your racism]

      WTF slashdot?! A blatantly racist claim with no backing gets modded to +4 Insightful with NOTHING backing it up? Not even a Wikipedia article? Not even a link to a white supremacist blog?

      You moderators suck shit.

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

    by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:01AM (#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.

    • Environment and upbringing play some role as well.
      Small children (toddlers+) are equally interested in pretty much everything because everything is new to them. As their character becomes better defined, they will lean towards something, not necessarily because of an innate preference but because of external factors, e.g. "more toys of that type" or "parents engaging in activities of this type more".
      I am too lazy to look this up but my guess is that children whose parents are artists will more likely become

  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:01AM (#47646819)

    1) What is meant with "skill at reading"? This does not become clear from the summary. If they mean just the ability to convert symbols into sounds I'd assume the plateau for that is pretty low and most people reach it pretty early on in their lives. If they mean interpretative ability, how do they quantify that, and how do they distinguish between correct and incorrect interpretations beyond a certain point? In the sentence "When the cat entered the room, he sat down on the mat." it is obviously incorrect to interpret "he" as referring to a dog, but when asked to interpret who or what "the shadow" refers to in Eliot's The Hollow Men it becomes a lot less clear which responses are correct and which ones incorrect. Compared to the high end of interpretative ability, mathematical ability is much easier to test and quantify, so how can they say that reading ability and mathematical ability are comparable? Maybe my reading ability is particularly low, but the more I think about it, the less I understand of what is meant by these researchers.

    2) What does "twice as similar" mean? I obviously realize that this refers to some statistical characteristic of the data, but that doesn't make "twice as similar" as an expression any more comprehensible. I guess a fish is twice as similar to a horse as grass is (all three are alive, but only horses and fish have spines, and only horses and fish convert oxygen into carbon dioxide), but I doubt that's what they mean.

    • Also, what do they mean by "math ability". Testing 12 year olds, so not all that advanced, right? I'm sure there are adults that read excellently but wouldn't have a clue about something like Tensor Calculus (he says picking something he's only vaguely heard of and *knows* he'd be no good at given experience with UK 1st year University Physics Degree course in the early 90s).

    • 1) What is meant with "skill at reading"? [snip] If they mean just the ability to convert symbols into sounds I'd assume the plateau for that is pretty low and most people reach it pretty early on in their lives.

      Well, given that the study focuses on 12-year-olds, I'd say that many of them are probably still in the process of achieving their final reading skills.

      If they mean interpretative ability, how do they quantify that, and how do they distinguish between correct and incorrect interpretations beyond a certain point?

      Umm, the same way most standardized tests do in "reading comprehension" exercises? Your post has a couple ambiguous examples, which would be poor test questions. But there are plenty of ways to generate more complex reading tasks that involve understanding the structure of a complicated argument, etc. A lot of it also is in understanding the connotations

    • I suspect they mean "linguistic" skill when they refer to reading.

      These are the "general" divisions of learning aptitudes in primary school, reading and math.

      In the long run, reading skill seems to tend to dictate aptitudes in reading, writing, speaking, etc.

  • So half of the twins learned twice as much half the time than the other half of the other twins?

    Sounds like one of Tolkien's best lines...

  • by Joe Gillian (3683399) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:06AM (#47646855)

    What I'm wondering is what implications this will have for standardized tests. Most of the tests assume that everyone is on the same playing field - but if this is true, and genetics play a role equal to 50% of a student's learning ability, this would essentially mean that some students will intrinsically perform better than their peers simply because they have the genes and other people don't.

    I'm willing to bet that the second they come up with a test for these genes, there will be lawsuits by school districts who lose funding over standardized tests, claiming that they are at an unfair disadvantage because their students simply don't have the genetic makeup to score well on the tests.

    • some students will intrinsically perform better

      Perform better at what?

      Most people have a natural talent for certain categories of things, and suck at others. That's the problem with all IQ tests, or "performance" tests: they don't take into account that there are many forms of intelligence.

      • by SuperGus (678577)
        The existence of generalized intelligence is well-established and largely uncontroversial. See, for example, G-factor [wikipedia.org]. It's also not really controversial that it's largely driven by genetics.
      • 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.

    • I'm willing to bet that the second they come up with a test for these genes, there will be lawsuits by school districts who lose funding over standardized tests, claiming that they are at an unfair disadvantage because their students simply don't have the genetic makeup to score well on the tests.

      I would bet on a different outcome; school districts will plead for more money:

      "Wee nede mor mony bekus hour stuudants r dumm, and mor mony wil undumm them."

    • What I'm wondering is what implications this will have for standardized tests. Most of the tests assume that everyone is on the same playing field

      I don't think that's true at all, and it probably never has been.

      Early SATs were deliberately modeled after early IQ tests, which were designed to test "innate" intelligence and abilities. Nobody in the early days of testing ever worried about a "level playing field" -- they just wanted to determine the students most qualified for college or whatever. (Of course, about a century ago when this testing started, the only people likely to have that innate ability developed well were mostly richer kids who w

    • by Solandri (704621)
      The tests are designed to (or ideally should) measure how well you've learned material people in charge of education have decided is important for you to know to further your future career and contribution to society. Whether you learn the material through genetic predisposition or by using sheer willpower to study is irrelevant. All that matters is whether you know the material or not.

      If you're arguing that the tests cover material not relevant to children's future success, then that's something you h
  • There is general pattern recognition (Hm, this artist it clearly talented, he has created something similar to, but not identical to Picasso's early work.) and specific pattern recognition (This is an example of the subspecies called a "Spotted Owl".) As such, anything that helps pattern recognition will help all intelligence. Things that help certain kinds of pattern recognition will only certain skills.

    Specifically:

    Singular neurons are simple things, their value and complexity grows only when you hav

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:13AM (#47646945)
    In my many years of computer consulting, I have ended up teaching many people various computer/math skills. I have no doubt that some people simply come under the category of thick headed. I will explain something simple 8 different ways and they just don't get it. While other people might not have a knack for things computery they only need to be shown something once.

    The same with math. For some reason I have ended up teaching people elements of math. Some people I have shown how to calculate percentages multiple times, while others I will show something far more complex such as how to calculate a mortgage payment and it sticks. Both groups will have had roughly similar math educations.

    I wonder if this is where some people choke when learning to program. There are many concepts in programming that must be mastered. There is no wiggle room with each concept such as ifs, whiles, switches, etc. You either get it or you don't, and with so many to learn they must be gotten quickly in a typical intro to programming course. Again I have helped people with their programming homework and while some would instantly absorb what I was saying there were groups to whom I might as well have been just making up words.

    Maybe I am a lousy teacher but lets say I am teaching someone to do the local sales tax (15%) and I tell them to do 1 x 1.15 to get the total on a calculator. I might even explain that the 1 represents the original price and the .15 is the tax and together they get the total. But I also just say, do 1.15 and it will just work. Write it on the calculator if needed. Easy Peasy.
  • Anecdotal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:24AM (#47647051)

    It's just anecdotal evidence, but my kids Adopted from Africa... he's smart but in regards to entirely different things than I am. I'm your typical computer guy... terrible with people but good with math, bad at spelling and grammar. He's totally outgoing, a natural leader. I take him to the park and he's organizing group activities with all the kids within minutes. It's truly amazing. I couldn't do that now, as an adult! He's 6, and already reading at a level I wasn't at until middle school. So genetics are definitely a factor.

    That being said, I'm intensely interested in the mechanics of just about everything. How do you build a fence? How does a lawn mower work? I've passed this curiosity on to my son. So nurture is a factor to.

    I've learned more about life by adopting than just about any other thing I've ever done in my life. I highly recommend it, you'll get more out of the venture than you ever had to put in.

    • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Monday August 11, 2014 @10:32AM (#47647129) Homepage

      How does a lawn mower work?

      Followed shortly by "What's the fastest route to the hospital?"

      • My oldest is 6 and naturally curious about how it works. You could go through all the mechanics and he would be captivated with the description but never touch it. My youngest is 4 and you've got to be careful merely doing things in his presence.
    • Interesting, and thanks for posting this.

      Apologies for the uninteresting followup, posted to remove an accidental down-moderation. I suppose it would be too much to hope that the next version of Slashdot will not let you mis-moderate simply by releasing the mouse when it's one pixel off from the intended target.

    • by tomhath (637240)
      Anyone who has more than one child will tell you that they're different from birth. Personalities, intelligence, artistic ability, everything - right out of the package.
    • Skills in leadership are almost entirely down to confidence. People who are good leaders generally have almost irrational confidence.

      I wonder if this is genetic, too, or learned?

  • *HOW MANY* stories have been written over the years with just this premise? Frankly, I've lost track.

    Science Fiction has already predicted the consequence: designer children. Whether the consequences predicted of THAT come to pass remains to be seen.

    Gattica / Brave New World indeed...

  • So what? Everyone knows that race is a social construct so there can't be any genetic correlations with race of social significance independent of racism's social construction.

    Therefore, the racial disparities that appear in society are the result of the White Man keepin' us down! The Heterosexual White Man that is.

    Open the borders!

  • The Slashdot summary draws a conclusion that seems unsupported by the paper:

    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.

    But the paper says otherwise:

    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.

    So your score is 50% correlated, not equal. That is a really important difference! If the paper said people were equally good at math and reading, that would be a startling conclusion!

Is a person who blows up banks an econoclast?

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