Linking Kids' Intelligence to Moms Sounds Cool -- but I'm Not Convinced It's True

IQ testNot all shiny new scientific studies should automatically be taken at face value; indeed, most require us to read through the jargon to find out what they really mean (and if they end up meaning anything at all). Case in point: A recent study claims that a mother's (not a father's) genes determine how intelligent a child is going to be -- and that the father's genes for advanced cognitive function might even be "deactivated" by the presence of the mother's genes. Girl power! Except ... maybe not.


The findings, published in Psychology Spot, suggest that because so-called "intelligence genes" are located on the chromosome X and women carry two X chromosomes, children have double the chance to inherit smarts from their mom. Not only that, but any intrepid intelligence genes you did manage to inherit from your pop would be canceled out. This is because intelligence genes are what's known as "conditioned genes," which operate differently depending on where they come from -- in the case of intelligence genes, according to this study, they only "activate" when they come from the mother.

If you chose the father of your children based on his love of classic literature and quantum physics, at this point you're probably wondering if you wouldn't have done just as well hooking up with that hot guy from high school who couldn't keep "a.m." and "p.m." straight -- but as it turns out, there may be no need to reconsider your major life choices.

An article in Forbes titled (somewhat hilariously) "No, Research Has Not Established That You Inherited Your Intelligence From Your Mother" suggests that while mothers do generally have two X chromosomes, they aren't identical (so they don't necessarily double the odds of inheriting a specific variant) and that only one of those chromosomes is passed on to their children. More importantly, girls inevitably inherit their second X chromosome from ... guess who?? Their fathers. As for the part about "conditioned" genes, the article explains that, yes, there are "gene sequences that are registered as being of maternal origin"  -- but "complementary" genes of paternal origin are also a necessary part of the equation.

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Well, so much for the pipe dream that this new scientific knowledge might serve as the tipping point that finally motivated men to prize brains over beauty in women!

Seriously, though, linking intelligence to moms (true or not) could potentially change how some men view women (and stop a lot of dads from taking all the credit every time their kid gets a good grade on a math quiz).

Which is not to say that all men seek out partners based on looks alone -- of course there are already many, many men out there who value a woman's mind above all else.

But let's face it: Our society still places a ridiculously high premium on women's looks, while our intellect and achievements are consistently overlooked. Then again, what would this have proved, exactly? That women's intelligence is valuable because it helps to breed smart kids? Um, there's a little more to it than that.

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Either way, it doesn't really matter: Researchers estimate only 40 to 60 percent of intelligence to be hereditary -- so there's at least as much nurture as nature at work when it comes to brainpower. Genes are just a jumping-off point, at the end of the day.

But that doesn't mean you can't still pat yourself on the back for birthing a genius. Kid had to get it from somewhere!


Image via Alberto G./Flickr 

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