Growing up poor can suppress a child's genetic potential to excel cognitively even before the age of two, say psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.
The researchers explain that half of the gains that wealthier children show on tests of mental ability between 10 months and 2 years of age can be attributed to their genes. But children from poorer families, who already lag behind their peers by that age, show almost no improvements that are driven by their genetic makeup.
Researcher Elliot Tucker-Drob does not suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter; 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," says Tucker-Drob. "Socioeconomic disadvantages suppress children's genetic potentials."
The study findings suggest that socioeconomic 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.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, notes 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 says he is planning follow-up research to examine that question.
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Source: The University of Texas at Austin