Of Mice and Moms: Inheriting Intelligence
The heritability of intelligence is one of the bigger questions in debates about education and IQ. Some, including those attempting to perpetuate the current educational system, swear that heritability is of negligible importance, and environment makes all the difference. Others swear that environment has almost nothing to do with outcomes. It might not be long before we can declare that both sides are right.
– Mothers can pass along their experiences to their children without even trying, researchers reported in a surprising study on Tuesday that showed baby mice could inherit the benefits of “education” that their mothers received before they became pregnant.
They found that young mice raised in an enriched environment — with toys and other stimulation — passed along the learning benefits to pups they had after they grew up.
The stimulated mothers did not simply have better parenting skills, because the researchers showed pups swapped at birth still learned better if their biological mothers – but not their foster parents – had been raised with the extra toys.
So it’s nurture, then nature, in this scenario. An average parent who receives a quality education can pass their acquired brain development on to their children. The children benefit from that without any such education themselves. But there’s one catch:
The changes only lasted one generation, indicating the DNA was not permanently changed. Researchers are learning that DNA function can be altered without changing the genetic code itself.
If this is born out in the lives of humans, and I have no doubt that it is – consider our proficiency with complex technology that didn’t exist two generations ago – it means that there is real generational importance to the education we provide today.
Of course, this won’t change the stratification of intellectual ability in the population; even as the lowest achieving groups learn and pass on their growth to the next generation, the highest achieving groups are doing the same. The question of whether it is possible to raise up the least-able, with out hindering the growth of the most-able remains.