Genes make some children natural boffins

Jon Slater

People are born scientists or artists and it is the job of teachers to help them capitalise on their natural talent or to improve on their weak areas.

Mark Lythgoe of University College London, told the festival of science, that, while the idea of innate genetic ability is accepted in sports, it is still disputed in education. But academic ability is partly a result of natural ability, conferred by genes, and partly due to upbringing and education.

Children's brains are wired in different ways giving them a predisposition to be good at arts or science. He said: "We are not all born a blank slate.

You know whether you are born one or the other. From an educational point of view it is important that we acknowledge these differences from an early age."

Differences between scientists and artists, he said, can be seen in the way they dress as well as in their differing abilities to sympathise with others or create systems to explain the world around them.

Dr Lythgoe's study of 7,400 graduates in arts or sciences found overwhelmingly that those in science had a "drive to analyse", while those in artistic occupations were better at identifying other people's emotions and putting themselves in others' place.

Of those in science professions, only medics rated in the top 10 for empathy, the research found. Computer science graduates were the least empathetic. Architecture was the only art occupation rated in the top 10 for being systematic. English graduates came last.

Dr Lythgoe said his findings - combined with research into conditions that affect the brain such as Asperger's syndrome - made a compelling case that a person's genetic make-up does influence their academic abilities.

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Jon Slater

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