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To be good at math, you must have parents good at math

Staff Writer |
Parents who excel at math produce children who excel at math. This is according to a recently released University of Pittsburgh study, which shows a distinct transfer of math skills from parent to child.

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The study specifically explored intergenerational transmission - the concept of parental influence on an offspring's behavior 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 in the Department of Psychology and a research scientist in the University's Learning Research and Development Center.

The Department of Psychology is within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. "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."

Within the study, Pitt's researchers found that the performance levels for early school-aged children on standardized 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.

Surprisingly, the researchers also found that children's intuitive sense of numbers - i.e. 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.

Researchers 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.

While separate studies have pointed to the existence of intergenerational transmission of cognitive abilities, only a select few have examined parental influences in specific academic domains, such as mathematics.

Libertus said the study is an important step toward understanding the multifaceted parental influences on children's mathematic abilities. Her future studies will examine why this transference of mathematic capability occurs.


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