Science Confirms Children Inherit Their Intelligence from Their Mothers. That’s right, a good part of your sharp brain comes from your mom! Of course, genetics aren’t the only factor involved in intelligence, and even scientists admit that there’s still a lot we don’t understand about the role it plays in psychological traits. Below, we’ll get into the much debated (and heatedly at that) results of those studies as well as some of the other factors that play a strong role in your overall intellect.
Do Children Inherit Their Intelligence from Their Mothers?
It’s pretty safe to say that we inherit a lot from our parents, and even our grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents…you get the idea. From the color of your eyes to the coarseness of your hair right down to your love (or hatred) for cilantro, genes form the foundation for much of who we are.
When it comes to intelligence, though, things get a little interesting. Some studies conclude your mom is the one that’s primarily responsible for just how smart you’ll become, and it’s not just about genetics. Let’s look at a few that support the idea that intelligence comes from mom.
Science-backed evidence that intelligence comes from mom
A couple of years ago, Psychology Spot published what would quickly become a viral study suggesting that your mother’s genes determine your intelligence. The reasoning seemed pretty solid. Research suggests that the intelligence gene is located on the X, aka the “female” chromosome.
The article referred back to a 1984 study at the University of Cambridge that analyzed the co-evolution of the brain and the conditioning of the genome, to conclude that the maternal genes contribute most to the development of the thought centers in the brain.
A few years later, another study revealed that most of children’s intelligence depends on the X chromosome, and since women have two X chromosomes, they are twice as likely to inherit the characteristics related to intelligence.
More recently, researchers at the University of Ulm, Germany, studied the genes involved in the brain damage and found that many of these, especially those related to cognitive abilities, were on chromosome X. In fact, they said it is no coincidence that the mental illness is 30% more common in males.
But perhaps, one of the most interesting results comes from an analysis by the Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in the US. In this study they interviewed 2,686 young people aged between 14 and 22 years over a period of several years. The researchers considered several factors- from skin color and education to socio-economic status- and found that the best predictor of intelligence was indeed the IQ of the mother. In fact, the ratio of young people’s intelligence varied only an average of 15 points from that of their mothers.
What about the X Chromosome passed from dads to daughters?
Now, if you’re a boy, you’re always going to get the X chromosome from your mother. If that chromosome truly is responsible for intelligence, then it’s reasonable to assume that a man’s intellect comes from his mother. What about girls, though?
Since girls have a pair of X chromosomes, one of them has to come from dad, right? So, isn’t it reasonable to assume that, for girls, just as much intelligence comes from dad as from mom? Yes and no. That 1984 study found that while girls do get one X chromosome from their dad, the parts relating to intelligence are “deactivated.” Whether that’s entirely accurate remains to be seen. Genetics is such a new field that what we learn today can easily be disputed tomorrow.
Another way of looking at it that supports the idea that children inherit their intelligence from their mothers: The X chromosome that girls inherit from their dads always comes from the maternal side. In other words, your dad got his X from your grandmother, your grandfather from your great-grandmother, and so on.
Of course, all of that relies on the theory that the X chromosome alone carries the intelligence gene, and scientists are still pretty divided on that hypothesis. One thing that just about all scientists can agree on, though, is that your intelligence is not solely determined by your genetics. Let’s take a look at a few other factors that come into play.
Other factors that determine intelligence
According to science, we can assume that as much as 40-60% of intelligence is hereditary. Whether that percentage is entirely accurate remains to be determined. However, regardless of whether 40%, 50% 60% or 99% of your intellect is genetic, the remaining percentage still relies on other factors, most of which can be summed up to two things: emotional connections and your environment. It’s the age old debate between nature vs. nurture.
Emotional connections & nurturing
A 2012 study found that having a nurturing mother “significantly contributed” to a child’s future intellect. A strong emotional connection to both mother and father influences both rational thinking function, intuition and emotions in children, and while the IQ you are born with is important, it is not decisive. Having parents who are emotionally present, however, is, and will greatly influence a child’s development and persona.
Environment & access to education
Even if you’re born with all the genetic material needed for an off-the-charts IQ, if you grow up in an environment that doesn’t nurture your brain, it’s entirely possible that you’ll never learn to use half of that intellect.
Think of your brain as a computer. Your hardware is top of the line and you’re fully loaded with a million gigabytes of RAM. You’re ready to take in all the knowledge in the world…but no one ever plugs you in. Without input, you’re just a really great empty brain. All the genetic advantages in the world can’t make up for an environment devoid of educational opportunities and input.
Again, it’s important to understand that genetics is constantly evolving. Are the studies 100% accurate? Can we say with certainty that intelligence comes from your mom? No, of course not. Scientific studies are kind of like Newton’s Law. For every study saying one thing, there’s an equal and opposite one saying another! Still, it’s fascinating to consider, and it definitely makes for a fun dinner conversation.
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