Educational Achievement Possibly Affected by Genes

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

The debate regarding nurture versus nature is contentious. New research delves into discussion with a study on the impact of genes on school achievement. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), researchers have determined that genetic markets could impact whether a person graduates high school and continues onto higher education.

The study, published in the July issue of the APA´s Development Psychology, is based off a national longitudinal study of thousands of young students from the United States.

“Being able to show that specific genes are related in any way to academic achievement is a big step forward in understanding the developmental pathways among young people,” explained lead author Kevin Beaver, a professor at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, in a prepared statement.

The project focused on three genes in the study known as DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4. These genes are related to traits like attention regulation, cognitive skills and intelligence, motivation, as well as violent actions. Previous research studies have looked at the genetic roots of intelligence, but almost none have analyzed genes that could affect educational attachment.

Beaver and his fellow researchers examined data obtained from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is also known as Add Health. It is a four-wave study of a nationally representative sample of students who attended middle or high school in 1994 and 1995. The study was done until 2008, concluding with participants who were between the ages of 24 and 32. They completed surveys, participated in interviews, and provided DNA samples along with their parents. A total of 1,674 subjects were included in the project.

In particular, the research focused on dopamine transporter and receptor genes. Dopamine transporter genes help in the production of proteins that can manage levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. On the other hand, dopamine receptor genes work on neurotransmission. Past research studies have demonstrated that dopamine levels can affect attention, intelligence, and impulsive behavior. In the study by Beaver and his colleagues, every participant had DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 genes. However, some people had different molecular makeup within the genes, which are known as alleles. The results showed that those who had particular alleles within the genes were able to obtain the highest levels of education.

On the other hand, the study also showed that having the alleles did not necessarily guarantee that a person would achieve higher levels of education. Researchers believe that factors like poverty and social environment can result in lower levels of education. Furthermore, having a lower IQ can also signal a lower level of education. As a result, the researchers concluded that having a specific allele doesn´t influence whether someone will finish high school or graduate from college. The genes work in a “probabilistic way” and having certain alleles can only increase or decrease educational achievement.

“No one gene is going to say, ‘Sally will graduate from high school’ or ‘Johnny will earn a college degree,'” noted Beaver in the statement. “These genetic effects operate indirectly, through memory, violent tendencies and impulsivity, which are all known predictors of how well a kid will succeed in school. If we can keep moving forward and identify more genetic markers for educational achievement, we can begin to truly understand how genetics play a role in how we live and succeed in life.”