Bad at maths? Your parents are to be blamed. Parents who excel at mathematics produce children who would also excel, says a study, which shows a distinct transfer of math skills from parent to child.
The study specifically explored inter-generational transmission -- the concept of parental influence on an offspring’s behaviour or psychology -- in mathematic capabilities.
“Our findings suggest an intuitive sense for numbers has been passed down knowingly or unknowingly from parent to child. Meaning, the math skills of parents tend to ‘rub off’ on their children,” said lead researcher Melissa E. Libertus, Assistant Professor at University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, US.
The study revealed that the performance levels for early school-aged children on standardised mathematic tests could be reliably predicted by their parent’s performance in similar examinations.
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Specifically, major correlations in parent-child performance in such key areas as mathematical computations, number-fact recall, and word problem analysis were observed.
In addition, the children’s intuitive sense of numbers - that is, the ability to know that 20 jelly beans are more than 10 jelly beans without first counting them - is predicted by their parents’ intuitive sense of numbers, the researchers said.
“We believe the relationship between a parent and a child’s math capabilities could be some combination of hereditary and environmental transmission,” Libertus added.
The findings represent the first evidence of intergenerational transmission of unlearned, nonverbal numerical competence from parents to children.
The study is an important step toward understanding the multifaceted parental influences on children’s mathematic abilities.
“This research could have significant ramifications for how parents are advised to talk about math and numbers with their children and how teachers go about teaching children in classrooms,” Libertus noted, in the paper published in the journal Developmental Science.
For the study, the math abilities of 54 children between the ages of five and eight as well as 51 parents - 46 mothers and five fathers - between the ages of 30 and 59 were assessed.
Children completed three subtests designed to gauge their capabilities in mathematical computations, basic number-fact recall, and word problems with visual aids.
Parents completed a math fluency subtest as a measure of mathematical ability, and they were surveyed on the importance of children developing certain math skills.