Why do people underestimate children's skills

Personality developmentThe role of genes has so far been underestimated

"It goes so far that we can say the same thing at the same moment and then laugh out loud and even complete our sentences."

"Yes, I also find it shocking how similar it is today, despite all efforts not to be the same anymore."

Even today, in adulthood, Katja and Ulrike are amazed at how similar they are. The two women are identical twins. They are genetic clones, so to speak, and grew up in the same family at the same time. In contrast to dizygoti twins, whose living environment is also similar, but who only share around fifty percent of their genes. The researchers in the large "Twinlife" study make use of such facts. Professor Martin Diewald, sociologist at the University of Bielefeld, and one of the project leaders:

"By comparing identical and dizygotic twins, we can estimate the extent to which things interest us, for example cognitive abilities, personality traits, school success, income, which are shaped by genes or the environment."

"Identical twins are more similar in personality than dizygoti"

For more than twelve years, sociologists and psychologists from the Universities of Bielefeld and Saarbrücken have been researching 4,000 families in which monozygotic or dizygoti twins live, interviewing almost 19,000 people.

"We not only examine the twins, but also the families, the birth parents and stepparents, the closest siblings and partners in terms of age, if any."

If identical twins are more similar in personality than dizygoti, genetic factors are likely to shape them. If dizygoti twins show an equally strong similarity, then the environment is more likely to have a formative power. What does that mean for individual life chances? Are they inherently unequal - or can they be explained by social circumstances? Professor Frank Spinath, psychologist at Saarbrücken University and project manager at Twinlife:

"The big topic of this study is life chances. Why do some people succeed so well in seizing life chances, to realize them, to gain satisfaction, to stay healthy and also to participate politically?"

Genes play a major role in the development of personality

The study has only been running since 2014, but it is already clear that genes play a major role in personality development.

"This is very typical in the large area of ​​life chances, where the identical are much more similar than the dizygotic. That means that we have evidence everywhere that genetic effects play a role."

The genetic influences are particularly clear when measuring intelligence, as Frank Spinath knows from earlier studies.

"There is intelligence data from early childhood to advanced adulthood. And if you depict that for identical twins in a graph, then that is an almost constant, extremely high-level line - high applies to similar also begin very similarly. and then it goes almost linearly downwards. So you could almost imagine that whatever differences life brings about reverberates in the dizygoti because they are not genetically similar. Because then life wears them apart. "

Poor children often lag behind their genetic capabilities

However, the subjects in the study come from different social backgrounds. And there, genetic and environmental influences make themselves felt differently. In concrete terms: children from unfavorable social backgrounds often even lag behind their genetic capabilities.

"Wherever one can say in principle that all the children in a family are relatively well off, because the parents have the money and the interest to support them in their educational success, the environment is so positive that the differences are there Nevertheless, there are more genetic explanations. At the bottom, where the framework conditions are difficult, it depends more on what the families do. Some families do things that are very beneficial, despite the unfavorable conditions. And other families don't do that. "

Those who are further away from education tend to promote the wiser

The researchers also found that educated parents also try to encourage their weaker children. Those who are less educated tend not to do that.

"Particularly educated parents react in such a way that the children who are perceived as comparatively weaker are encouraged to do activities such as reading, singing, and making music. In weaker groups it is exactly the opposite. There, parents are more concerned with the children who they are perceive as the wiser, as the more capable of development. "

No influence of environmental factors on the genome

Incidentally, the findings of twin research so far do not indicate that environmental factors influence the genetic makeup, as the new research field of epigenetics suspects.

"If epigenetic effects were extremely powerful in the traits that interest us, then one would expect the identical twins. If genetic regulations change here due to environmental or behavioral reasons and the genetics of the twins lose their similarity, then one would, too expect them to become more dissimilar. And you hardly find that. The identical twins are very similar in everything we measure. "

"A relaxing message for parents"

Parents for The results of the study could be explosive. Because a person's chances in life are possibly quite a bit biological fate - and therefore only changeable to a limited extent.

"What is very important to us is that a lot of what I observe is not the result of environmental influences, but also has something to do with genetic factors. And you may find that explosive. I think the crucial question arises If we value differences, if we look at the individuality behind them with a certain openness, then I think that's very important and relaxing news for parents, because sometimes you ask yourself why children are different, although I think they should support them in the same way. And then I start to wonder what I did wrong. That can be cured to a certain extent by understanding that differences are to a good extent are genetic. And if we know that and can treat it with respect, I think that's good news. "