Tuesday 27 September 2016

Do We Really Get Our Intelligence From Our Mothers?


On social media last week were headlines declaring that we get our intelligence from our mothers. How true is this and do we really get our intelligence from our mothers?

Firstly, this is not really "news", in 1996 The Independent published  Brainy Sons owe their intelligence to their mothers. This was based on research that suggested that intelligence genes were on the X chromosome that is inherited from the mother. Mice were given genes just from their father and they developed with a small head and big body or genes from their mother which resulted in a big head and small body. They also found that the genes from the mother went to the cerebral cortex (grey matter) and from the father to the limbic system (concerned with instinct and mood. It controls the basic emotions fear, pleasure anger).

Boys have only one X chromosome from their mother as they receive a Y chromosome from their father. So all clever boys must have got it from their mother right? No wrong!

Genetics isn't that simplistic. We all know we inherit certain things from our parents and grandparents but if it was that simple then all siblings would be the same. They would all have the same coloured eyes and hair. They would all "look like their father/mother/whoever".

Genes can be turned on and off by the cells, genes vary and mutate. We are all different.

It is estimated that between 40 - 60% of intelligence is inherited. That means the rest is dependant on the environment and stimulation by both mothers and fathers.

A study carried out by King's College London and reported in Science Magazine surveyed twins and analysed 83 different inherited traits including IQ. They included happiness, how much they like school and how hard they worked. They collected data on how well the twins did in their GCSE exams and found that traits other than intelligence explained more than half of the total genetic basis for the scores. That is traits inherited from their fathers.

If intelligence was solely down to how much love you are given then Bear will be a genius.

Nature v Nurture 

As much as I would love to be uniquely responsible for the intelligence of my son, I'm not. It's not just down to intelligence, it's also how hard you work, how happy you are, what stimulation you are given, how you like to learn, what subjects interest you. Parents of all abilities can have intelligent children if they pass on some intelligence and then nurture them correctly.

Many experiments have shown that if children from deprived background who have mothers of IQ's below 80 are fed, stimulated and loved their IQ will be dramatically superior to the control groups. In one experiment children entered a special programme from birth until they went to school at six years. At six their IQ's were tested and the experimental group's IQ was 120.7 compared to the control group's 87.2.

If you would like to read more The Role of Genetics in IQ and Intelligence is a really easy and enlightening read.


If you want a clever son or daughter then don't go looking for Einstein or Marie Curie to pass on their genes instead love and play with your children. Feed them well and stimulate their minds.

Spanish children speak Spanish and Chinese children speak Chinese. Not because their mothers passed down a special gene, but because that was the language they were surrounded by and taught.

Teach your children well.


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