Scientists sponsored by the Wellcome Trust last month published a study showing the correlation between reading and maths ability at age twelve has a substantial genetic component.
via Pacific Standard:
But when we say a mental trait is influenced by genetics, we clearly mean more than that; we’re also making a statement about the role of genetic differences among people. Learning to read and do math involves some very complex brain biology. New links are made between different specialized areas of the brain, and old parts are re-purposed to engage in something that human brains didn’t do until relatively recently. All of this brain rewiring depends intimately on the chemistry of our neural cells, chemistry that is subtly altered by thousands of genetic differences that change the properties of the molecules involved. Unlike the precision engineering that goes into the latest Intel chip, the human brain’s process tolerances are rather wide—nearly all of our molecular parts show some variation among the human population.
Genetic variation is an unavoidable and central fact of biology, and it is at the heart of the relationship between the social and the biological. There never was a master copy of the human genome; species nearly always exist as populations of genetically varied individuals. These genetic distinctions affect every chemical process in our cells, and because absolutely nothing we do happens without some cell chemistry, everything about us is potentially influenced by genetic variation.
Importantly, genetic studies like this one also say something about the importance of the environment. The authors argue that “our results highlight the potential role of the learning environment in contributing to differences in a child’s cognitive abilities at age twelve.” They’re suggesting that when a child’s reading and math abilities—which should be correlated—diverge from each other, there is an opportunity to make a productive change in the learning environment.
Genetic variation influences every cellular process, and everything we do depends in some way on the processes in our cells; ultimately, the social and the biological are inseparable.
Read the full article here.
Image courtesy of epSos.de