Is a Child’s Intelligence Affected by Parenting Style?

Little genius

For many years, scientists have been trying to answer the question, Is a child’s intelligence inherited from its parents, or can the environment in which the child grows up determine intelligence? The old “nature vs. nurture” debate. A new study has found that “nature” may play the bigger part, when it comes to IQ.

A small group of universities from several countries, including three from the United States (Florida State University, University of Nebraska and Western Illinois University), collaborated on a study that found that genetics, and not parenting style, are linked to a child’s verbal intelligence: Verbal IQ is not the result of parental socialization, the study found.

Researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative “sample” of American adolescents, as well as a sample of adopted youths; all participants were in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, or “Add Health.” Participants in this study were in grades 7 through 12 at U. S. schools in the 1994-95 school year. The study surveyed respondents over time on topics relating to social, economic, psychological and physical well-being, also gathering contextual data on family, school, friendships and so forth.

The purpose of including adopted children in the verbal intelligence study was to control possible “genetic confounding” — that is, eliminating the possibility that parenting and home environment, not genetics, could be responsible for differences in IQ’s.

Parenting behaviors were reviewed, and whether they impacted verbal intelligence, which was measured with the Picture Vocabulary Test. The tests, which use sets of pictures to gauge a person’s vocabulary, and are considered IQ tests, were given to middle then high school students, and again when participants were between 18 and 26 years old.

Results: The study found that parenting had “a marginal and inconsistent influence” on a child’s IQ. The weak associations were found in both the national sample and the adoptee sub-sample. (Source: Journal Intelligence.)

Study author Kevin Beaver, PhD, a professor at Florida State University, stated that past research that concluded parenting-related behaviors affect a child’s intelligence may be wrong, as the studies probably did not factor in genetic transmission.

Previous research may seem to indicate that parenting affects a child’s intelligence, but in truth, the more intelligent parents are doing “things” that mask the actual genetic transmission of intelligence to the children, Beaver added.

And what things is the researcher speaking of? Commonly heard suggestions that parents have gotten from various sources for a stretch of years now, such as reading to their children, talking with their kids and having family meals where parents and children engage in positive socialization.

So, what now? Don’t read or talk to kids? Well, while those interactions may not in themselves increase IQ, they are nonetheless valuable and enjoyable bonding opportunities for parents and their children. In addition, there is academic intelligence, but there are also “people” intelligence and emotional intelligence. These last two can be greatly enriched, the more parents and caregivers take time to have positive interactions with their children, giving them verbal guidance, praise and support, and showing them love.

By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.