It seems to me that smart people have smart kids and athletes breed athletes. Do these children really have a natural edge?
"Smart kids come out of smart houses," agrees Thomas Spencer, PhD, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, who says studies bear out a genetic influence. But the parents don't just hand down high IQs -- they also encourage a love of learning. "Reading and talking -- including sitting down together at dinner for family conversation -- help kids develop a positive attitude toward books and learning," Spencer says. "That's something any parent can provide. You don't need money and lots of formal education."
Likewise, musical giftedness -- notably, perfect pitch -- seems to be in the genes, but researchers say it needs to be nurtured early on with training, ideally before age 7. Making the necessary connections in the brain sooner in life allows the natural ability to blossom rather than lie dormant. Of course, music lessons are not a lost cause for the child of tone-deaf parents -- but a prodigy is unlikely. "You can teach anyone to play piano, but that child will never match the level of one for whom musical ability runs in the family," says Spencer.
The same "use it or lose it" message applies to athletic ability, another inherited trait: a natural athlete won't become a powerhouse by just lounging around. "A kid whose athletic profile isn't promising but who works hard may do better," says Alan Guttmacher, MD, deputy director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Again, there's no sports-specific gene; rather, individual factors predispose a child to, say, run a marathon versus the 100-yard dash. "There's a heritable aspect to how fast muscles twitch, the angle of leg bones, and how you propel yourself," Garber says.
Originally published in the October 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.