Washington: A new research has suggested that poverty may influence how children achieve their genetic potential.
Using 750 sets of twins as subjects, psychologists at the University of Texas found that growing up poor can suppress a child’s genetic potential to excel cognitively even before the age of two.
They also explained that 50 percent of the progress wealthier children show on mental ability tests between 10 months and 2 years of age could be attributed to their genes.
But children from poorer families, who already lag behind their peers by that age, show almost no progress attributable to their genetic makeup.
Researcher Elliot Tucker-Drob, however, does not suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter. Instead, they simply have more opportunities to reach their potential.
“You can`t have environmental contributions to a child’s development without genetics. And you can`t have genetic contributions without environment,” he said.
“Socio-economic disadvantages suppress children’s genetic potentials,” he added.
These findings go to the heart of the age-old debate about whether ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ is more important to a child’s development.
They suggested that the two work together and the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potentials at a much earlier age than previously thought.
The researchers looked at test results from twins who had taken a version of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at about 10 months and again at about 2 years of age.
The test asked children to perform tasks such as pulling a string to ring a bell, putting three cubes in a cup and matching pictures.
The study findings suggested that socio-economic disparities in cognitive development start early.
“For children from poorer homes, genetic influences on changes in cognitive ability were close to zero. For children from wealthier homes, genes accounted for about half of the variation in cognitive changes,” said Tucker-Drob.
The study also noted that wealthier parents are often able to provide better educational resources and spend more time with their children but does not examine what factors, in particular, help their children reach their genetic potentials.
Tucker-Drob said he is planning follow-up studies to examine that question.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.