Ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration (and sixty percent genetics)

By Robin SmithIn his 2008 bestseller Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argued anecdotally that when it came to success, intelligence isn’t Classroom Hands pictureeverything. A study published this month in the journal PNAS found just that — by looking at the heritability of academic performance of teenagers on set of British standardized tests.By looking at 13,000 twins identical and fraternal twins aged 16, the study found that 62 percent of the variability of test scores could be explained by genetics. The authors found that achievement was highly correlated with intelligence, but almost as important were other characteristics such as self-belief, personality, well-being, perception of the school environment, and behavior problems. However, all of these characteristics were to some extent influenced by genetics. So what are these genetic factors? So far, only a handful of large-scale studies have identified factors affecting academic achievement.A 2013 study published in ScienceExpress identified a SNP (rs9320913) that was associated with whether or not a person had attained a college diploma, and another two (rs11584700, rs4851266) that were associated with “EduYears” — the number of years of schooling a person had. Although these variants confer modest effects — the strongest one is associated with the equivalent to about a month of schooling difference per copy of the mutation — the identification of new parts of the genome that correlate with academic achievement is a promising future direction for research.Scientists at 23andMe were interested to see if these associations held true with our customers. In a study published this month in the journal Psychological Sciences, they showed that they were. Replication studies are vitally important for confirming that the results of one study apply to different groups of people and are not due to confounding factors.
  • John Humkey

    I’m trying to word it carefully.

    If we use this information to determine “which child needs more help” . . . great.

    If we use this information to determine who was a lost cause before they were even born, and abandoning them, to move on and help others with better odds . . . not so great.

    As with everything, knowledge is power. But you have to use it judiciously.

    It occurred to me the other day, many of my favorite quotes-speeches in books/TV/movies . . . are like the famous one Saul Tigh’s character gave in BattleStar Galactica. A clear and honest acknowledgement of the “cards you were dealt” in life, followed by a firm “screw you, in the end, I’ll decide what type of man I’ll be.”

    Many will overcome starting out with that 62% being “not” in their favor . . . and we don’t want to lose those diamonds in the rough, in the chaos of a statistical-hypothetical bad start.

    Its good information to know . . . but its a dangerous thing to think its predestination.

  • gettingwell

    The study’s “genetic reasons” term doesn’t mean that the researchers actually took genetic samples. From one news article: “Identical twins share 100 percent of their genes while non-identical twins share just 50 percent of their genes. Because these sets of twins share the same environment, the scientists were able to compare identical and non-identical twins to estimate the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors.”

    This estimating method produced an artificial divide between genetic and environmental factors. Identical twins start out sharing 100% of their genes, but then their genes become expressed differently — often because of environmental factors — to produce unique individuals even before birth. The sets of identical twins were definitely not the 100% same genetic makeup between themselves at age 16 as they were at conception, and that assumption was the foundation of the estimating method.

    I feel that the researchers didn’t prove their case that “genetic reasons” were a causal factor to the stated extent. Although their estimating method’s numbers may have indicated that the above exercise was valid, that didn’t necessarily mean that the method’s results reflected the reality of genetic and epigenetic influences on the subjects. Better methods of estimating “the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors” are available with genetic sampling.

    The funniest thing I saw in the study’s news coverage was one where a woman argued that the researchers were wrong and that they needed educational psychologists on their staff to interpret the data. Guess the profession of the arguer!