Good Genes and Educational Achievement: The Straight Dope
Researchers have identified genetic markers that may influence whether a person finishes high school and goes on to college, according to a national longitudinal study of thousands of young Americans. The study is in the July issue of Developmental Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association.
“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,” said the study’s lead author, Kevin Beaver, PhD, a professor at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University.
The three genes identified in the study – DAT1, DRD2 and DRD4 – have been linked to behaviors such as attention regulation, motivation, violence, cognitive skills and intelligence, according to the study. Previous research has explored the genetic underpinnings of intelligence but virtually none has examined genes that potentially contribute to educational attainment in community samples, said Beaver.
...The genes identified in this research are known as dopamine transporter and receptor genes. Every person has the genes DAT1, DRD2 and DRD4, but what is of interest are molecular differences within the genes, known as alleles, according to Beaver. Subjects who possessed certain alleles within these genes achieved the highest levels of education, according to the findings.
Dopamine transporter genes assist in the production of proteins that regulate levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, while dopamine receptor genes are involved in neurotransmission. Previous research has shown that dopamine levels play a role in regulating impulsive behavior, attention and intelligence.
The presence of the alleles alone did not guarantee higher levels of education, the study found. Having a lower IQ was more strongly associated with lower levels of education. Also, living in poverty and essentially “running with a bad crowd” resulted in lower levels of education despite the genetic effects.
Even though the genetic variants were found to be associated with educational levels, having a specific allele does not determine whether someone will graduate from high school or earn a college degree, according to Beaver. Rather, these genes work in a probabilistic way, with the presence of certain alleles simply increasing or decreasing the likelihood of educational outcomes, he said. _APA.org
Dopaminergic Polymorphisms and Educational Achievement . . . Developmental Psychology July 2012
Data Source Used in Study
There is more to achievement in life than good genes, of course. A benevolent and sensory-rich upbringing and a solid social support structure are extremely helpful. But there is no better support upon which to build than good genes.
There is much more to be mined from data sources such as the one used by the authors of the study. The study looked at only three genes out of at least hundreds which are likely to influence intelligence, attention, impulsivity, future orientation, and other determinants of cognition and executive function. There is so much more to be learned, and the tools to do so are becoming more widely available and affordable -- even to the amateur scientist.
The problem seems to be access to reliable population data, and unfettered random access to different population groups which might well be compared in order to answer some questions of great importance both to science and to society.
But this type of study -- limited and cautious, to be sure -- makes a good starting point.