educational success influenced by genes and environment

A child’s educational success, inherited or not, is influenced by the genes of the parent

The study Funded by the Nuffield Foundation confirms that the academic success of a person is more likely contributed by the genes they have inherited from their parents as well as the genes they have not.

Apart from the parents’ genes which are not directly inherited, but which nevertheless shaped the educational levels of the parents and consequently influenced the lifestyle and the family environment which they offer to their children, are important and can influence a person’s academic performance in school and beyond.

The genes inherited (nature) by children makes them look like their parents and also upbringing (nurture), that is the environment they grow up in, contributes so much to the child’s academic success because both nature and nurture effects are intertwined.

Although each parent (mother, father) passes half of their genes to their children, the other half of their genes are not passed on, but they continue to influence their parents’ traits and ultimately affect their children’s traits. For example, a child may have a greater interest in activities like reading because it is fueled by the parent’s higher genetic propensity for learning.

Researchers found that genes influenced by the environment had about half as much impact on academic success compared to genetic inheritance.

This concept, called genetic nurture, is when parental genes influence outcomes for their offspring by creating the environment they provide for them. It describes how the genes of parents indirectly influence the characteristics of their children. For this article, 12 studies in different countries were researched and analyzed and a method called polygenic scoring was used to study the influence of millions of genetic variants on the academic attainment of nearly 40,000 parent-child pairs.

Effects captured by polygenic scores in studies explained at least 1.28% of the variance in educational outcomes was influenced by genetic nurture, while 2.89% of the variance is the effects of direct genetics. This study was based at least on educational outcomes.

The results are said to be underestimated by researchers because polygenic scores capture only a fraction of the heritability of academic results. The actual genetic effects could be much larger, but the direct genetic effects would probably still be about double that of the genetics influenced by environments.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), a lead researcher, said that genetic nurture has been found to have a significant effect on a child’s academic success and attainment which is mainly due to parenting education and how it affects the nurturing environment they provide. Both fathers and mothers are equally important in shaping a favourable environment and promoting a child’s learning environment. This study illustrates how complex the relationship is between genes and the environment. Although the study uses genetic methods, it provides strong evidence that in addition to genetics, the environment really matters when it comes to education.

Two aspects are complementary here. First, some depend on the genetic lottery, so parents do not have full control and everything does not depend on what they do. That said, what parents do and their choices seem important. Our results show that socio-economic education and parental education are probably essential. It is really important to understand how education, that is, years of academic achievements to the highest level and the outcome in terms of scores and grades obtained are passed on through families and how this knowledge could help to break cycles of disadvantage across generations.

Dr Biyao Wang (UCL Psychology and Language Sciences), the first author of the article, said that It is still too early to say if the most important thing is what happens within the family such as parents reading to their children or outside the family such as parents choosing the best school and the activities. The hope is to understand which pathways genetically influenced by the environment (nurture) operate, whether it changes during different stages of development, and to identify which aspects of the environment are most important. This will be the key to designing new interventions to encourage and support all children to be successful.

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