Last week a genetics experiment caused a bit of a stir. A study – a rigorous, well-grounded study – showed that genes count for 58 per cent variation in GCSE results. Genes are more important than home life, than school, than whether you are rich or poor.
On reflection, all the excitement was a bit odd. We already know genes have power over behaviour. I mean, I’d understand the fuss if genes were suddenly found to cause 98 per cent variation. In fact I’d join the shouts of revolution. Genes are destiny! Don’t bother making your kid revise! Maybe find a different father, though, for the next one! But it’s only 58. You’ve still got a 42 per cent margin for messing up that child’s GCSEs. Surely more than enough for anyone.
That aside, the story had a vital bit of information missing. That 58 per cent is an average – but varies hugely for individuals. And here’s the thing: it varies because of education. Your school can change how much your genes matter.
A paper published in Psychological Science helps explain why. A scientist called Elliot Tucker-Drob wanted to work out the effects of nature and nurture on test scores. He used twin studies to tease this out – looking at children with the same genes but different schooling.
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