Skills above and beyond IQ are vital to success, genetic research finds.
Many ‘non-cognitive skills’ are linked to higher educational attainment, earning more money and even living longer.
Similarly, personality traits like emotional stability, curiosity and being industrious and orderly are linked to success.
Inheriting these types of traits is just as important as inheriting raw brain power, if not more so, the researchers found.
The conclusions come from a large genetic analysis, Dr Daniel Belsky, study co-author, explained:
“Genetic studies of educational attainment were initiated with the goal of identifying genes that influenced cognitive abilities.
But it turns out they’ve also identified genetics that influence a range of other skills and characteristics.
What was most surprising to me about our results was that these noncognitive skills contributed just as much to the heritability of educational attainment as cognitive ability.”
The study analysed genetic and cognitive test data from almost 1.5 million people.
It found that 43 percent of the influence of genes on educational attainment comes from cognitive abilities.
The remainder — 57 percent — is from noncognitive abilities.
Professor Paige Harden, study co-author, said:
“Motivation, persistence, grit, curiosity, self-control, growth mindset—these are just a few of the things that people have suggested are important noncognitive skills.
For personality and risk behavior, we saw relationships we expected; noncognitive skills genetics were associated with less risky behavior and a personality profile we associate with maturity, and social and professional competency.
But the results for mental health were a surprise.”
Professor Harden is referring to the finding that genes linked to educational attainment were also associated with mental health problems.
These genes increased the risk of OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anorexia.
Professor Harden said:
“This is an example of what geneticists call pleiotropy.
Our result warns us against a simplistic view of genetic variants being good or bad.
The same genetic variant that predisposes someone to go further in school might also elevate their risk of developing schizophrenia or another serious mental disorder.”
While genetics is important for giving us our start in life, effort is required to reach our full potential.
Professor Harden said:
“Genetic influence must always be understood through the lens of history and social structures.
These results tell us about what is, not what could be.
Nothing about our study should discourage investments in ensuring that all children reach their maximum potential.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics (Demange et al., 2021).