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People always believed that certain abilities and talents come with the right genes. Researchers have recently identified a set of genes that do indeed determine our learning abilities to a substantial degree.

Don't scold your kid if he can't seem to wrap his wits around formulas and equations. He may be trying his best, but it is likely his genes are getting in his way. According to research, mathematical abilities in people are genetically determined. And would you believe that the same set of genes also influences reading abilities and language skills in people? Now that explains why all those class toppers are wizards with words and also uncannily good at number crunching. Scientists call these Generalist Genes, and these have a hand in determining learning abilities in people.

The Role of Generalist Genes in Determining Learning Abilities

Scientists have for long wanted to decipher the factors behind the difference in learning abilities between people. People always believed that certain abilities and talents come from nature, especially when it comes to real geniuses. Learning may help to develop these talents further, or develop them in certain degree in people without the right genetic predisposition, but there are some limits on what can be achieved through the learning alone.

Scientists have finally cracked the code behind our learning abilities with the discovery of a set of Generalist Genes that influence most of our cognitive abilities and disabilities. In this context, it is worth clarifying that the influence of Generalist Genes indicates a complex interplay of multiple genes vis-à-vis abnormalities in a single gene that may cause disorders like Down syndrome.

These landmark findings were the result of extensive studies carried out on identical and fraternal twins. According to these studies, these genes not only influence learning abilities like reading and doing mathematics but also determine other cognitive capabilities like how well a person can memorize and his/her level of spatial intelligence (Kovas & Plomin, 2007). This explains why intelligent people seem to be able to process diverse pieces of information and comprehend a multitude of subjects so effortlessly.

However, the researchers who stumbled onto these findings warn that the presence of Generalist Genes does not negate the influence of learning environments on cognitive development. Factors like home life and the environment in school contribute in equal measure in determining learning abilities. Generalist genes only determine how easy or difficult it is for a child to learn a subject. But the obvious consequence of this discovery is that some children are genetically predisposed to learn faster than others.

A Head for Numbers and a Way With Words

A British study on close to 3,000 identical and fraternal twins and groups of unrelated children, all aged 12 years, found that about half of the genes that influence reading ability also have a hand in determining mathematical skills. The children were tested for reading comprehension and fluency and were given mathematical problems to solve. The results from these standardized tests were then mapped with their DNA information to arrive at the findings.

Although these two cognitive abilities seem to be quite divergent in nature, it has been empirically proven that those who have a head for numbers will most likely have a way with words too. The findings from the study also hint at the heritability of reading and mathematical skills.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Butcher, L. et al. (2007). Generalist genes and cognitive neuroscience. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 16. p.145-151
  • Haworth, C. et al. (2007). Reading and Generalist Genes. Mind, Brain and Education 1(4). p.173-180
  • Kovas, Y. & Plomin, R. (2007). Learning Abilities and Disabilities: Generalist Genes, Specialist Environments. Current Directions in Psychological Science 16(5). p.284-288
  • Plomin, R. et al. (2007). Generalist Genes: Genetic Links Between Brain, Mind, and Education. Mind, Brain and Education 1(1). p.11-19.Photo courtesy of CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr:
  • Photo courtesy of TownePost Network via Flickr:

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