Parents' math skills 'rub off' on their children: study

Washington, Parents who excel at math may give birth to children who are also good at the subject, a new
study has claimed.

The study by researchers at University of Pittsburgh in the US shows a distinct transfer of math skills from parent to child.

The study specifically explored intergenerational 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, essentially, the math skills of parents tend to 'rub off' on their children," said lead researcher Melissa E Libertus, an assistant professor at the university's Learning Research and Development Centre.

"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," said Libertus.

Researchers found that the performance levels for early school-aged children on standardised mathematic tests could be reliably predicted by their parent's performance on similar examinations.

Specifically, they observed major correlations in parent-child performance in such key areas as mathematical computations, number-fact recall and word problem analysis. 

The researchers also found that children's intuitive sense of numbers - 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.

They determined that such close result parallels could  not have been produced through similar institutional learning backgrounds because their previous research showed that this intuitive sense of numbers is present in infancy.

The findings represent the first evidence of intergenerational transmission of unlearned, nonverbal numerical competence from parents to children.

Libertus said the study is an important step towards understanding the multifaceted parental influences on children's mathematic abilities.

"We believe the relationship between a parent and a child's math capabilities could be some combination of hereditary and environmental transmission," said Libertus.

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.

The study sampled 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.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Science.