DEA News
Return to News Home

Desire to learn is driven by our genes, study claims

Our willingness to learn - or lack thereof - is significantly influenced by our genes, according to a large study.

Sophie Freeman, Daily Mail, Apr 9, 2015

If you struggle to get your child to go to school in the morning, don’t blame them - it could be your fault.

The researchers found that 40 to 50 per cent of the differences in children’s motivation to learn could be explained by their genetic inheritance from their parents.

Psychologists from Goldsmiths University of London, and Ohio State University in the US studied more than 13,000 twins aged nine to 16 from six countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia and the US.

The researchers said they were surprised by the results, believing that the twins’ shared environment - elements such as the teachers and the family that they had in common - would be a larger factor than genetics.

Instead, genetics and non-shared-environment factors had the largest effect on the children’s motivation to learn, whereas the shared environment had negligible impact.


A review of 308 studies involving more than 1.1 million children has now completely overturned this long-held stereotype.

The study, which looked at data from 1914 to 2011, suggests that girls do better in school than boys - and have been doing so for at least 100 years.

The research also claims that girls do better at all ages, in all subjects and all over the world.

According to the data, compiled by the University of New Brunswick in Canada, girls have been outperforming boys throughout their academic careers, from infant school to secondary school.

Accordingly, we should not jump to conclusions that a poor teacher or the child themselves is to blame for a lack of motivation in the classroom, the researchers said. ‘We had pretty consistent findings across these different countries with their different educational systems and different cultures,’ said Professor Stephen Petrill, of Ohio State University.

‘It was surprising. The knee-jerk reaction is to say someone is not properly motivating the student, or the child himself is responsible.

‘We found that there are personality differences that people inherit that have a major impact on motivation.

‘That doesn’t mean we don’t try to encourage and inspire students, but we have to deal with the reality of why they are different.’

The results don’t mean there is a specific gene for how much children enjoy learning, he added, but they suggest a complex process, involving many genes and gene-environment interactions that help influence a child’s motivation to learn.

The study will be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Return to News Home