A newly-released study suggests that a person’s genes could play a role in determining how far they go with their education.
Scientists uncovered a total of 74 genetic variations that could all influence how much formal education a person decides to attain, meaning that some people have variants of genes within their DNA that cause them to continue further with their schooling.
However, the researchers stressed that these genes actually play a very small role, with social and environmental factors holding more sway. The variants found in fact make up less than half a percent of the differences in educational attainment found in the population that was studied.
According to researchers, the strongest association found for a variant explained only 0.035 of one percent of the variation in educational attainment, writes Amy Norton for UPI.
“Put another way, the difference between people with zero and two copies of this genetic variant predicts, on average, about nine extra weeks of schooling,” says Dan Benjamin, a behavioral economist at the University of Southern California who worked on the study.
Benjamin went on to say that genetic variations would not directly influence education. Instead, he said, “Genes that are associated with educational attainment might influence many different biological factors that in turn affect psychological characteristics — such as cognitive performance and ‘grit’ — that finally influence educational attainment.”
The genetic variants found to be linked to education typically were uncovered in the sections of DNA thought to be important in early brain development. In addition, “suggestive evidence” exists causing researchers to believe that some variants had an effect on people’s thinking and learning skills, or a personality trait known as “openness to experience.”
Benjamin said that additional research on the topic is needed, but what was found is important because it could help to uncover how our genes are influenced by the environment around us.
Meanwhile, other scientists believe that the research does not provide anything more than an interesting fact, and that no more research should be done on the topic.
Educational attainment was defined for the study as the number of years of schooling that a person completed. In order to determine the connection to genetics, the genomes of close to 300,000 white and European individuals were studied, with scientists testing statistically whether people with one variant finished more or less schooling than people who had a different version of the genetic variant. Findings were then verified by replicating them in 111,000 individuals who had participated in the UK Biobank, a large and continuous health study, writes Arielle Duhaime-Ross for The Verve.
In all, 74 genetic variants were found that, when put together, can explain 0.43% of the variance in schooling observed across individuals.
The researchers insist that the information found could be valuable, since understanding how genetics influence education could help scientists to be able to separate the effect of each gene when trying to determine the impact of social interventions.