New Study Shows Children Inherit Their Intelligence From Their Mothers

Children's inheritance and mom

Genetics have never been so fascinating than when you are measuring who your child takes after the most. Sometimes they can look like your identical minis, and other times their unique features surprise you. New studies strongly suggest that your smarty-pants child might have their beautiful mums to thank for their intelligence! 

It's all in the genes

When the sperm meets the egg, the perfect amount of DNA comes together to create a human. This package of DNA molecules, the chromosomes, are the recipe cards for living things and up until recently, it was believed that intelligence was factored in from both mom and dad. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Robert Lehrke states that most of a child's intelligence does, in fact, have a hereditary component, and it comes from chromosome X. Studies suggest it is far more likely that kids inherit their intelligence from their mothers because women have two X chromosomes. 

DNA childrens intelligence

A 1984 University of Cambridge study was one of the first conducted in uncovering where children inherit intelligence by analysing the co-evolution of the brain and the conditioning of the human genome. This lead to the conclusion that maternal genes contribute to most of the development centers in the brain, most notably the hippocampus. 

Your child's brain

Baby's brain

The hippocampus plays a pivotal role in the limbic system. It's responsible for long-term memory, regulation of emotions, and spatial navigation. Another contributing theory to why children inherit intelligence from their mothers comes from the evidence that the mitochondria are almost exclusively inherited from moms. 

The mitochondrial genes are not the genes directly researched for increased intelligence, but it does have an important role in brain function. The mitochondria serve as the cell's powerhouse and your child's brains are high consumers of metabolic energy supplied by the mitochondria. It is suggested that this may translate into enhanced cognitive function.

I got it from my momma

Mom and Daughter

A study conducted by the Medical Research Council in Glasglow, Scotland interviewed 12,686 people between the ages of 14-22 every year since 1994. The results demonstrated that the best predictor of these young people's intelligence was their mother's IQ. They stated that their interviewee's IQs varied only an average of 15 points from that of their mothers. 

While your genetic blueprints have a lot of responsibility, it's not the only factor for intelligence. It is estimated that between 40-60% of intelligence is hereditary. Meaning the remaining factors vary depending on the child's environment, stimulation, and personality. 

External factors

Intelligence is defined as one's ability to solve problems. Our brains work as a whole, meaning, even though our hippocampus is hard at work organising our rational thinking functions, our intelligence is strongly influenced by intuition and emotions. This is where the child's parental relationships, environment, and personality come into play. 

Kids brains

Emotional support in early childhood is a significant factor for healthy hippocampus and limbic system. Studies of Romanian orphans in institutional care have shown that enhanced early caregiving through placement in therapeutic foster care has a strong positive impact on the child's cognitive, social, and emotional outcome. These studies reveal, that besides genetics, healthy intellectual development in children is formed through physical and emotional contact. Some studies even suggest that a child's secure bond to their mother is intimately linked to intelligence, suggesting that a nurturing caregiver in the early stages of life has proved to be an essential prerequisite for healthy brain development. 


American novelist, Anthony Doerr wrote:

"We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs, the brain, the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us."

While genetic expression has a lot to account for in children's intelligence. It is with proper nurturing, support, and stimulation that children reach their best potential. So Dads, teachers, and nannies give yourself a pat on the back too! Raising the next generation of care-givers, and thought-leaders is the most rewarding job. 


Luby, J. L. et. Al. (2012) Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age. Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; 109(8): 2854–2859.

Zechner, U. et. Al. (2001) A high density of X-linked genes for general cognitive ability: a run-away process shaping human evolution? Trends Genet; 17(12): 697-701.

Keverne, E. B.; Surani, M. A. et. Al. (1996) Genomic imprinting and the differential roles of parental genomes in brain development. Brain Res Dev Brain Res; 92(1): 91-100.

Gécz, J. & Mulley, J. (2000) Genes for Cognitive Function: Developments on the X. Genome Res; 10: 157-163.