Primal Numbers – The Science of Slacking

Slacking off at school? Finding it hard to stay motivated? Whether It’s you or your kids that are having trouble hitting the books, new research shows that the problem might be caused by your genes. That’s right?genetics can have a bigger effect on your study habits than external factors do. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get a free pass on your grades.

The news comes from a study that included almost 13,000 twins in six countries. As Science Alert reports, researchers who looked at participants? study habits “found that up to 50 percent of their differences in motivation at school could be down to the genes they inherited from their parents.”

The key to this discovery lay in the different answers given by fraternal and identical twins. For example, participants were asked about their motivation in several different subjects?things like how much they enjoyed their studies or how well they thought they were doing. To a fair degree, the answers from the identical twins matched a lot more closely than the answers from the fraternal twins.

In other words, whether they were keen students or not, the identical twins tended to have about the same level of motivation as their siblings. Fraternal twins, on the other hand, showed a bigger difference in their enthusiasm for school.

But how does that point to genetics as a deciding factor in the motivation gap? Well, fraternal twins share half their genetic material. With identical twins, all their genetic material is the same. So after taking into account shared environmental influences (parents, teachers, socioeconomic factors), genetics is a prime candidate. Especially since the differences between identical and fraternal twins were consistent across all six countries, which means that cultural influences didn’t play a major role.

So what does that mean for those who struggle to make themselves crack the books? Sorry, but it won’t get you sympathy marks on that homework assignment or special accommodation in the classroom.

For starters, the idea of being genetically shortchanged in the motivation department would be impossible to prove, since researchers haven’t identified anything nearly as specific as a homework-motivation gene. And unless You’re a twin in a carefully controlled study, you’d probably have a hard time proving that other factors weren’t to blame?like a busy schedule or plain old self-discipline.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that researchers estimate only about half of your motivation comes down to genetics. The rest still has a lot to do with external factors that can be controlled or at least modified. We can change programs or courses, try different study methods, or find a partner or online group to help motivate us.

The good news, though, is that this research makes it even more obvious that education shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all system. True, the concept of learning styles might be debunked, as this article from the Association for Psychological Science explains, but far too often, people who don’t fit into the traditional classroom structure still get labelled as academic failures when a change in approach is all That’s needed to turn them into high achievers. Two notable examples are Walt Disney, who dropped out of high school in order to study film arts at night, and Richard Branson, who had poor grades because of dyslexia.

Is slacking in your genes? Science might never be able to tell. But if You’re having trouble cracking the books, a little motivation from Sir Richard himself might help.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.