Pupils’ ability in science and maths could be partly explained by their mothers’ attitudes during pregnancy, new research suggests.
The study examined a personality attribute known as the ‘locus of control’ using data from over 1,600 pregnant women who took part in Bristol’s Children of the 90s study.
People with an external locus of control believe there is little point in making an effort as what happens to them is due to luck and circumstances.
Internally controlled people are more motivated into action because they feel they can influence what is going to happen.
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University of Bristol researchers analysed the link between the mother’s attitudes and pupils’ maths, science and problem-solving skills at ages 8, 11 and 13.
They found that mothers with an internal locus of control were more likely to have children who were good at maths and science.
They were also more likely to feed their children diets that help brain development, read to them more frequently and take more interest in their homework.
Study co-author Stephen Nowicki, Candler professor of psychology at Emory University, Atlanta, said the children of internally focused mothers “eat better, sleep better and are better able to control their emotions”.
“Such children later in childhood are also more likely to have greater academic achievements, fewer school related personal and social difficulties and less likelihood of being obese.”
Lead author Professor Jean Golding said the study’s findings could have implications for government policy.
“It is widely known that the locus of control of a child is strongly associated with their academic achievements but until now we didn’t know if mothers’ locus of control orientation during pregnancy had a role to play in early childhood,” she said.
“If our findings... can be replicated, it would suggest that more efforts should be made to increase the opportunities for mothers to feel that their behaviours will have a positive outcome for themselves and their children.”