Genetic influences on cognition increase with age, study shows

October 1, 2013, University of Texas at Austin

(Medical Xpress)—About 70 percent of a person's intelligence can be explained by their DNA—and those genetic influences only get stronger with age, according to new research from The University of Texas at Austin.

The study, authored by psychology researchers Elliot Tucker-Drob, Daniel Briley and Paige Harden, shows how can be stimulated or suppressed depending on the child's environment and could help bridge the achievement gap between rich and poor students. The findings are published online in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

To investigate the underlying mechanisms at work, Tucker-Drob and his colleagues analyzed data from several studies tracking the cognitive ability and environmental circumstances of twin and sibling pairs. According to the findings, genetic factors account for 80 percent of cognition for in economically advantaged households. Yet disadvantaged children – who rank lower in cognitive performance across the board – show almost no progress attributable to their genetic makeup.

This doesn't mean disadvantaged children are genetically inferior. Instead, they have less high-quality opportunities, such as learning resources and parental involvement, to reach their genetic potential, Tucker-Drob says.

"Genetic on cognitive ability are maximized when people are free to select their own learning experiences," says Tucker-Drob, who is an assistant professor of psychology. "We were born with blueprints; the question is how are we using our experiences to build upon our ?"

In a related study, Daniel Briley, a psychology doctoral student, examined how genetic and environmental influences on cognition change over time. Using meta-analytic procedures—the statistical methods used to analyze and combine results from previous, related literature—Briley examined genetic and on cognition in twin and sibling pairs from infancy to adolescence.

According to his findings, published in the July issue of Psychological Science, genes influencing cognition become activated during the first decade of life and accelerate over time. The results emphasize the importance of early literacy and education during the first decade of life.

"As children get older, their parents and teachers give them increasing autonomy to do their homework to the best of their ability, pay attention in class, and choose their peer group," says Briley. "Each of these behaviors likely influences their academic development. If these types of behaviors are influenced by genes, then it would explain why the heritability of cognitive ability increases as children age."

Tucker-Drob says this research highlights the possibilities for bridging the between the rich and poor.

"The conventional view is that genes place an upper limit on the effects of social intervention on cognitive development," says Tucker-Drob. "This research suggests the opposite. As social, educational and economic opportunities increase in a society, more children will have access to the resources they need to maximize their genetic potentials."

Explore further: Preschools get disadvantaged children ready for the rigors of kindergarten

Related Stories

Preschools get disadvantaged children ready for the rigors of kindergarten

February 23, 2012
Preschools help children prepare for the rigors of grade school—especially children who come from a minority family, a poor family, or whose parents don't provide high-quality interactions. The results of a new study ...

Why parenting can never have a rule book

September 3, 2013
Any parent will tell you that there is no simple recipe for raising a child. Being a parent means getting hefty doses of advice – often unsolicited – from others. But such advice often fails to consider a critical factor: ...

Romantic sexual relationships deter teenage delinquency, new study shows

August 18, 2011
Sexually active teens in committed, romantic relationships are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior than teens who have casual sex, according to new research from psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

Recommended for you

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.