How to Have a Smarter Child
Heredity, of course, has a lot to do with how smart your child will turn out. But the environment in which he or she develops is an important factor.
Can you do anything to make your child smarter -- before he or
she is born? Some say it's possible. Here's why they think so.
Nature Versus Nurture
Remember the old "nature versus nurture" debate from
biology class? In a nutshell, we're stuck with whatever talents nature gives
us, but our environment can nurture -- or hinder -- those gifts.
How important is heredity to intellect?
"Intelligence emerges from the interaction of a person's
genetic makeup and the environment in which they develop," Thomas J.
Darvill, PhD, tells WebMD. "We have little control over nature's
contribution, but the uterine environment is of critical importance and often
overlooked by new parents."
Prospective parents with a family history of genetic diseases
may benefit from screening and counseling, says Darvill, chairman of psychology
and associate director of the Center for Neurobehavioral Effects of
Environmental Toxics at Oswego State University in New York.
Biological signs of intelligence suggest, but don't prove, that
heredity is an important determinant of IQ, explains Linda Gottfredson, PhD, a
professor of education at University of Delaware in Newark.
When it comes to the biological basis of intelligence, size and
speed matter. Larger hat size is loosely linked to IQ, although the largest
human brain on record belonged to someone with severe mental retardation.
Faster reaction time, impulse transmission in nerves, and response of brain
waves to unusual sounds are all linked to higher intelligence.
Research by Richard Plomin, PhD, at the Institute of Psychiatry
at King's College in London, has identified specific genes predicting high
intelligence, reading disability, and mental retardation.
The extent to which genetics accounts for differences in IQ
increases with age from about 40% in the preschool years to about 80% in
adulthood. "To increase the chances of having a smart baby, marry someone
smart!" Gottfredson says.
First, Do No Harm
Perhaps the best practical advice for how to have a smarter
baby is not to hinder nature's miracle-in-progress. Even before conception, the
mother and probably the father should avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and
caffeine, says Stephen J. Schoenthaler, PhD, a professor of nutrition and
behavior at California State University in Long Beach.
"Most devastating developmental conditions result from
prenatal damage," Darvill says. "If Mom drinks alcohol or uses other
recreational drugs, she should stop."
Brain cells depend on chemical signals to tell them where to
go, how to connect, and which genes to turn on or off. "Any foreign
substance that interferes with the clear transmission of these chemical
messages can impact negatively on development," says Darvill.
"Any kind of drug use -- running the gamut from caffeine to
heroin -- has the potential to limit the later intellectual development of the
unborn child," Shawn K. Acheson, PhD, tells WebMD.
While the evidence is most clear-cut for alcohol, pregnant
women should avoid all drugs, says Acheson, an assistant professor of
psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
"It's commonsense stuff, but I still see incredibly
intelligent pregnant women who should know better continuing to smoke," she