Study: Math-capable parents yield math-capable kids

"The math skills of parents tend to 'rub off' on their children," researcher Melissa E. Libertus said.

By Brooks Hays

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- If your dad or mom is good at math, chances are you're pretty good yourself.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found a parent's performance on a standardized math test was highly predictive of their child's success on a similar test.


Parents and children were also found to be similarly gifted at mathematical computations, number-fact recall and word problem analysis. Most surprisingly, scientists found a strong correlation between a parent and child's intuitive sense of numbers -- the ability to know a pile of 20 marbles is larger than a pile of 10, without counting.

"Our findings suggest an intuitive sense for numbers has been passed down -- knowingly or unknowingly -- from parent to child," lead researcher Melissa E. Libertus, a psychology professor at Pittsburgh, said in a news release. "Meaning, essentially, the math skills of parents tend to 'rub off' on their children."

The study, detailed in the journal Developmental Science, is one of the first to explore links between parent-child performance in specific academic subjects, like math or science.

While the recent study focused on parents and their early school-aged children, previous research has shown an intuitive sense of numbers is present in infants. And because parents and children don't share educational environments outside the home, the correlations can't be explained by formal teaching.


Instead, researchers believe a unique combination of genetics and home environment explain how math skills are passed down from generation to generation. To identify specific mechanisms of transference, however, scientists must conduct more research.

"We believe the relationship between a parent and a child's math capabilities could be some combination of hereditary and environmental transmission," said Libertus. "We look forward to future research endeavors that will explicitly examine the degree to which parents pass down key genetic traits and create an in-home learning environment that is conducive to producing high-achieving math students."

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