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Academic self-confidence 50% nature and 50% nurture

26 June 2009

New research from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s and colleagues from Goldsmiths, University of London, has found that, contrary to previous thought, children’s self-perceptions of their abilities have a clear genetic basis.

More than just IQ: school achievement is predicted by self-perceived abilities – but for genetic rather than environmental reasons published in Psychological Science is the first study to look into academic self-confidence. 

Self-perceived abilities (also referred to as self-confidence or self-efficacy) are typically assessed by asking people how good or able they think they are in a given domain (e.g. regarding academic performance). Traditional theories have argued that such ability self-perceptions are primarily environmental in origin. For example, children’s ability self-perceptions have been assumed to be shaped by the way children are brought up by their parents.

However, the first twin study on this topic showed that self-perceptions of abilities are in fact heritable to a large extent. Led by Corina U. Greven and Robert Plomin (King’s College London), the researchers asked over 3,700 twin pairs to rate their abilities in a number of core school subjects. The 7-10 year old participants were drawn from the Twins Early Development Study, a large UK representative sample. The researchers found that the confidence with which children answer the question 'How good do you think you are (e.g. in English, Mathematics...)?' is about 50% due to nature (genes) and about 50% to nurture (environments).

Moreover the researchers found that children’s self-perceptions of their abilities matter in predicting school achievement beyond the children’s actual, tested ability (IQ).  Surprisingly, this prediction occurs for genetic rather than environmental reasons.

Lead author Corina Greven says: 'The specific genes involved in academic self-confidence remain to be identified, but we expect them to be many genes of small effect size, and their effects will be probabilistic rather than deterministic. That is, just because self-confidence is partly genetic, it does not mean that self-confidence cannot be changed by environmental influences.'

This study provides new insights into why some children perform better at school than others, by highlighting the importance of hereditary factors underlying children’s academic self-confidence. The researchers’ hope is that these findings will stimulate the development of strategies that help turn children’s failure into success. So potentially by changing the way children perceive themselves, through interventions from caregivers and educators, it may be possible to improve their school performance.

The study can be found at:

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