Beliefs about genetic influences on mathematics achievement: A cross-cultural comparison

David H. Uttal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

The poor mathematics performance of children in the United States has become a topic of national concern. Numerous studies have shown that American children consistently perform worse than their counterparts in many parts of the world. In contrast, children in China, Japan, Taiwan, and other Asian countries consistently perform at or near the top in international comparisons. This paper examines possible causes of the poor performance of American children and the excellent performance of Asian children. Contrary to the beliefs of many American, the East Asian advantage in mathematics is probably not due to a genetically-based advantage in mathematics. Instead, differences in beliefs about the role of genetics may be partly responsible. Asians strongly believe that effort plays a key role in determining a child's level of achievement, whereas Americans believe that innate ability is most important. In addition, despite relatively poor performance of their children, American parents are substantially more satisfied with their children's performance than Asian parents. The American emphasis on the role of innate ability may have several consequences for children's achievement. For example, it may lead children to fear making errors and to expand less effort on mathematics than their Asian counterparts. As research on genetic influences on behavior, traits, and abilities increases scientists should be careful that the public understands that genetics does not directly determine the exact level of a child's potential achievement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-172
Number of pages8
JournalGenetica
Volume99
Issue number2-3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1997

Keywords

  • Beliefs
  • Cultural differences
  • Mathematics achievement
  • Motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science
  • Insect Science

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