Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found in a recent study that if parents are skilled at math, their children have a good chance of being strong math students as well. Specifically, the report showed that the performance of mothers and fathers on standardized math tests is a reliable predictor of their children’s math capabilities.
Mathematical computations were likewise similar between parents and kids, as well as word problem analysis and number-fact recall. But the biggest surprise was that there was a significant association between a parent and young person’s “intuitive sense of numbers,” meaning the ability to know that a stack of 20 blocks is larger than a pile of 8 without having to count the blocks, writes Brooks Hays for United Press International.
“Our findings suggest an intuitive sense for numbers has been passed down — knowingly or unknowingly — from parent to child,” lead researcher Melissa E. Libertus, a psychology professor at Pittsburgh, said in a news release. “Meaning, essentially, the math skills of parents tend to ‘rub off’ on their children.”
The study, Intergenerational Associations in Numerical Approximation and Mathematical Abilities, was published in the journal Developmental Science and is one of the first pieces of research to examine correlations between parent and child achievement in particular academic areas like science and math.
Libertus explains that her research effort focused on parents and their early school-aged young ones, while prior research has found that infants also have an intuitive sense of numbers. Since parents do not share educational environments with their children away from home, the links cannot be due to formal training.
So, according to scientists, a singular mixture of household environment and genetics explain how math tendencies flow down the generations. More research will be needed to specify the mechanisms of transference. Libertus added:
“We believe the relationship between a parent and a child’s math capabilities could be some combination of hereditary and environmental transmission. We look forward to future research endeavors that will explicitly examine the degree to which parents pass down key genetic traits and create an in-home learning environment that is conducive to producing high-achieving math students.”
An explanation of the study published on the University of Pittsburgh website includes a statement from Libertus, who said that her research shows the first evidence of the generational transference of unlearned, nonverbal competence numerically from parents to kids.
The analysis sampled 54 young people between five and eight and 46 mothers and five fathers between 30 and 59. The group included 45 Caucasians, five biracial persons, three African-Americans, and one Asian. Forty-six of the parents had at least a college education, and all had at least a high school diploma.
Shivali Best, writing for the Daily Mail, reports the children in the study were given three math tests to measure their math skills. Parents were given math tests also and were asked to take a survey on how important it was to them that their children develop skills in math.
The study reminds parents that nature, or the pre-wiring that takes place in newborns and is based on genetic makeup and other biological circumstances, can affect a child’s academic prowess. Nurture is usually defined as the influence of factors in the environment after a child is born, and comes about through being exposed to, experiencing, and learning a skill.