Did You Inherit Intelligence from Your Mother?

It's common to think that intelligence is directly related to genetics; thus we inherit it. So, is your mother truly the answer to how smart you are?
Did You Inherit Intelligence from Your Mother?
José Gerardo Rosciano Paganelli

Reviewed and approved by the doctor José Gerardo Rosciano Paganelli.

Last update: 09 August, 2022

You might’ve wondered whether you inherit intelligence from your mother or father since people tend to associate this ability with genetics. For this reason, several teams of researchers have decided to investigate the matter.

Some years ago, people thought that intelligence came from the mother, given the bond people have with her from the first moment of life. Also because scientists thought cognitive functions were on the X chromosome.

We also believed the maternal X chromosomes provide more information for the development of thought-associated brain structures.

Experts at the Genetic Literacy Project have set the record straight in regard to all of this. Let’s look at them below.

What do experts say about how you inherit intelligence?

In his book Sex Linkage of Intelligence, American scientist Robert Lehrke suggests that a chunk of the cognitive component of a human being is directly linked to the X chromosome. Also, he affirms that women are twice as likely to inherit cognitive traits because they have two.

Lehrke explains that all women have a “not so intelligent” and a “brilliant” X chromosome. However, there may be women with two “brilliant” X chromosomes — as in the case of the woman with the world’s highest IQ, Marilyn Vos Savant.

In the case of men, the Y chromosome doesn’t have a role in cognition. This means that a Y chromosome together with a “not so intelligent” X chromosome may produce a person with an intellectual disability. On the contrary, IQ develops together with a “brilliant” X chromosome.

However, the Genetic Literacy Project makes it clear that the mother plays a key role in the development of intelligence, not just because she contributes X chromosomes, but also because of the type of bond she can develop with her child on many levels: physical, emotional, psychological, etc.

Did you really inherit intelligence from your parents?

You’re reading this article to know whether intelligence comes from the mother since studies show that about 45 to 55 percent of intelligence is inherited. This means a large part of intelligence is the result of personal and family conditions.

Regarding the data supporting the hypothesis of inherited intelligence through the mother’s side, a study revealed that the effect of the mother’s years of education on the total years of education of biological children is four times greater than the effect on the years of education of adopted children.

The cited research shows an eloquent graph: intelligence quotients between five types of siblings vary considerably, depending on genetics or type of bond. The correlations would be between identical twins, 0.85 percent; non-identical twins, 0.59 percent; non-twin siblings with the same parents, 0.46 percent; step-siblings, 0.41 percent, and adopted, 0.20 percent.

Another study showed that: “Genetic material explains 74 percent of the variance in verbal intelligence, 66 percent in grade point average, and 80 percent in the inclination to continue studies.”

Other factors that influence intelligence

A child's brain suggesting intelligence is inherited from his mother.

1. Values

Perseverance, effort, discipline, commitment, and interest in learning are factors that influence a child’s intelligence.

2. Autonomy

A child’s independence is essential as it helps the cognitive process run smoothly. The child needs to define and determine the things they want without being forced to make decisions under pressure.

3. Confidence

A child who’s confident in their skills can solve any problem that arises in their life, thus developing analytical skills in any situation.

4. Emotional bond

Children who are more attached to their parents tend to overcome frustrations in their lives more easily. In this case, there are studies that also speak of the power of a mother and her affection.

A mother carrying her baby.
It’s important to encourage contact from the first moments since the benefits are immediate.

In this regard, it’s essential to establish that for an optimal development of the child’s perceptual and intellectual aspects, early stimulation is required in the first months of life. Indeed, intelligence develops between the first six and nine months. Furthermore, it coincides with the awakening of awareness of the outside world.

Factors such as attachment and gestation and breastfeeding times have a significant influence on intelligence.

Definitely, cognitive functions go through an interaction between heredity and the environment, since biological structures condition what’s directly perceived.

If attachment passes through time and quality of exchanges, it isn’t illogical to state that “babies whose mothers don’t work and are highly educated tend to have a higher intelligence percentile.”

Thus, demonstrating that the chromosomal load has a lot to do with the close mother-child bond. Therefore, the closer the relationship, the more positive the result in cognitive skills.

Other things to keep in mind

The media says a lot about whether intelligence comes from the mother or not. However, many times they misrepresent or don’t present the interpretation of the data clearly in the different investigations, given the lack of knowledge that exists about genetics in general.

So, keep in mind:

  • The mother plays a key role in the development of intelligence, beyond genetics
  • Like many other human-related issues, intelligence has many overlapping layers and, therefore, it isn’t possible to approach its study from a single point of view. You have to take into account multiple factors.
  • Genetics isn’t the only answer to how intelligent or not a person is, nor is the environment, but a combination of both. “You only inherit 40 to 60 percent of intelligence, which leaves a similar portion dependent on the environment.”
  • An article published in Forbes magazine makes it clear that when you inherit an X chromosome, you get whatever gene is on that chromosome, whether it’s linked to intelligence or not.

Final thoughts on how you inherit intelligence

Intelligence is really complex and you should stimulate it to achieve satisfactory results. Parents have to contribute to the child’s cognitive development. Also, good stimulation through challenges that foster the child’s cognitive development will contribute to their desire to excel.

Now you know that intelligence comes partly from the mother. Thus, challenge your child with intellectual exercises so that you both improve your cognitive skills.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Deary IJ, Johnson W, Houlihan LM. Genetic foundations of human intelligence. Hum Genet. 2009 Jul;126(1):215-32. doi: 10.1007/s00439-009-0655-4. Epub 2009 Mar 18. Review. PubMed: 19294424.
  • Fernández, J. J. (2009). Herencia genética y rendimiento educativo: nuevos avances en la bibliografía empírica internacional. Panorama Social, 10, 129-139. https://www.funcas.es/wp-content/uploads/Migracion/Articulos/FUNCAS_PS/010art10.pdf
  • Plomin R, Deary IJ. Genetics and intelligence differences: five special findings. Mol Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;20(1):98-108. doi: 10.1038/mp.2014.105. Epub 2014 Sep 16. Review. PubMed: 25224258. Free full-text available from PubMed Central: PMC4270739.
  • Rodríguez, G. M. (2006). Tipo de vínculo madre/hijo y desarrollo intelectual sensoriomotriz en niños de 6 a 15 meses de edad. Interdisciplinaria, 23(2), 175-201. http://www.scielo.org.ar/scielo.php?pid=S1668-70272006000200003&script=sci_arttext&tlng=pt
  • Scott Barry Kaufman (October 17, 2013). “The Heritability of Intelligence: Not What You Think”. Scientific American. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  • Sauce B, Matzel LD,The paradox of intelligenceHeritability and malleability coexist in hidden gene-environment interplay.”, Psychol Bull. 2018 Jan;144(1):26-47.
  • Videla, R. (2015). Aspectos bio-psico-sociales de la teoría Triárquica de Sternberg que influyen en el desarrollo de la Inteligencia. Un camino hacia la inteligencia, 1-18.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.