Poverty may hold back kids' genetic potential

The old "nature vs. nurture" debate is being exposed as false dichotomy in new research showing that when a child grows up poor, his or her "genetic potential to excel cognitively" can be suppressed even before the age of 2. Psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin, led by assistant professor Elliot Tucker-Drob, tested 750 sets of twins. They found that half of the progress wealthier children show on mental ability tests can be attributed to genetics. Children from poor families, however, showed almost no progress attributable to genetics.

Of course, the research does not suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically smarter. They just have more opportunities to reach their potential. The study does suggest that both "nature" and "nurture" work together and that the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potentials at a much earlier age than previously thought.

"You can't have environmental contributions to a child's development without genetics. And you can't have genetic contributions without environment," says Tucker-Drob, who is also a research associate in the university's Population Research Center. "Socioeconomic disadvantages suppress children's genetic potentials."

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

- take a look at the UT release
- read the abstract in Psychological Science
- and Salon blogged about it