10 August 2011

Inborn Number Sense and Math Skills, Genes for IQ?

12 August 2011: More findings on genes and IQ

...the study -- published online in a recent issue of Developmental Science -- indicates that math ability in preschool children is strongly linked to their inborn and primitive "number sense," called an "Approximate Number System" or ANS. _SD
Johns Hopkins psychologists have found a connection between a child's innate "number sense" and his ability to master math skills. The "number sense" was tested using a computer screen of flashing blue and yellow dots, similar to the image below. Children had to tell the researchers whether there were more blue or yellow dots, for a number of different dot combinations.
Panamath: More Yellow or Blue Dots?

Some comparisons were easy (like comparing five yellow versus 10 blue dots). Others were much harder (like comparing five yellow versus six blue dots). Children were informed of right or wrong answers via a high- or low-pitched beep. (You can take a test similar to the one administered to the children online here: http://www.panamath.org/testyourself.php )

The children also were given a standardized test of early mathematics ability that measures numbering skills (verbally counting items on a page), number-comparison (determining which of two spoken number words is greater or lesser), numeral literacy (reading Arabic numbers), mastery of number facts (such as addition or multiplication), calculation skills (solving written addition and subtraction problems) and number concepts (such as answering how many sets of 10 are in 100.) This standardized test is often given to children between the ages of 3 and 8 years.

...According to the researchers, this means that inborn numerical estimation abilities are linked to achievement (or lack thereof) in school mathematics.

"Previous studies testing older children left open the possibility that differences in instructional experience is what caused the difference in their number sense; in other words, that some children tested in middle or high school looked like they had better number sense simply because they had had better math instruction," Libertus said. "Unlike those studies, this one shows that the link between 'number sense' and math ability is already present before the beginning of formal math instruction."

Still in question, of course, is the root cause of the link between number sense and math ability. _SD
These findings share some similarities with those of a recent U. of Missouri study, highlighted in an earlier Al Fin posting. Innate number sense would represent one of the "confounders" which Al Fin warned the U. Missouri researchers about.

Abstract for Johns Hopkins study discussed above

The controversy over whether human intelligence can be partially inherited, or whether cognitive ability is purely an environmental trait, rages behind the scenes in universities around the world. Academics who have been indoctrinated into pure egalitarian philosophies often balk at the idea that much of human cognitive aptitude is inherited. And yet the evidence continues to accumulate.

Not that it has been easy to find so-called "intelligence genes." Not at all. No one said it would be easy.
Scientists who hunt for "intelligence genes" used to think there were fewer than half a dozen of them.

In recent years, they determined there may be at least 1,000 - each with just a tiny effect on the differences in people's IQ. A study released Tuesday found new evidence that many genes play a role in intelligence, but scientists still couldn't pinpoint the specific genes involved.

...Previous work involving twins and adopted children has found that genes have a significant influence on differences in IQ scores, producing about half the difference between adults in general. The influence of genes on IQ appears to grow from childhood to adulthood.

Scientists have come to realize that, as with height, differences in intelligence come not from a few genes, but rather the overall effect of many genes, each with only tiny influence. That makes them hard to tease out.

The new DNA study, reported online Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, came to similar conclusions. Many genes work together to shape intelligence much like the different instruments of an orchestra that play in sync. Unless there's a soloist playing, it's often difficult to decipher the contributions of individual instruments.

...Researchers didn't ID any genes affecting IQ. But they estimated that they found a genetic influence that accounts for at least 40 percent to 50 percent of the differences on intelligence test scores in the 3,511 unrelated adults in their study who were tested on knowledge and problem-solving skills.

They focused on more than 500,000 places in the participants' DNA, looking for evidence that IQ-influencing genes lay close to those places. They concluded that the overall effect was coming from many scattered genetic differences, each of only small influence.

The latest work adds to evidence that even the most powerful of these has only weak influence. Deary said that future studies will probably need to involve millions of people to detect the genetic effects.

Robert Plomin of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, who's looked for intelligence-related genes for 15 years but didn't participate in the new study, isn't surprised by the latest findings.

"We've got a century of twin and adoption studies," such as those comparing twins reared in different families, that support the notion that about half of IQ differences come from DNA, he said.

...Turkheimer, the Virginia psychologist [author of above study], thinks other types of research such as brain scans might have better luck in understanding what intelligence is.

Those methods are better than "pinning your hopes on adding together a bunch" of small effects from individual genes, he said. _Physorg

Turkheimer certainly has a good point, suggesting that brain scans may offer a faster method for objectively measuring intelligence and cognitive aptitude, as compared to genetic studies. But in reality, all approaches must be taken, in order to fill in as many gaps in our knowledge about human intelligence as possible.

Only the most foolhardy and die-hard of HBD deniers can fail to acknowledge the powerful effect which genes play on the variability of human cognitive skills displayed statistically by different human populations. And yet in a modern academic milieu of egalitarian multiculturalist political correctness, there are plenty of die-hard HBD deniers around at all levels of academia and its human and pseudo-intellectual effluence.

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