Does Positive Thinking in Pregnancy Boost Children's Maths Skills? 

Nicky Broyd

February 08, 2019

A new study published by Frontiers in Psychology has found that pregnant mothers with an internal locus of control (ie, who believe in a connection between their actions and what happens to them) were more likely to have a child who was good at maths and science. 

Prof Jean Golding, lead author of the research and founder of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC, also known as the Children of the 90s study) said in a media release: "If our findings, that mothers' attitudes and behaviours can have an effect on their child's academic abilities, can be replicated it would suggest that more efforts should be made to increase the opportunities for mothers to feel that their behaviours will have a positive outcome for themselves and their children. It would help future generations raise healthy, confident and independent children."

Outlook on Life

The study is the latest in a series from the University of Bristol which examines a personality attribute known as the 'locus of control' - a psychological measure which divides people into two groups - internally and externally controlled.

Internal locus/internally controlled people believe they have control over the outcome of events in their life and are motivated into action because they feel they can influence what is going to happen. Higher academic achievement is associated with this group.

External locus/externally controlled people think forces beyond their control dictate how life turns out and believe there is little point in making an effort as what happens to them is down to luck and circumstances. Lower academic achievement is associated with this group.

Latest Research

For the latest research the responses to questionnaires completed by more than 1600 pregnant women as part of Bristol's ALSPAC study were analysed.

Researchers then looked at the mathematical and scientific reasoning and problem-solving skills of the women's offspring at the ages of 8, 11, and 13.

They found that mothers with an internal locus of control (LOC) before their child was born were more likely than mothers with an external LOC to have a child who was good at maths and science. Mothers with an internal LOC were also more likely to provide a diet that assisted brain development, to frequently read stories to their child and show an interest in their homework and academic progress.

The authors say that 'around half of the difference in the scores achieved bychildren of parents who were internally oriented is related to behaviours and choices made by the parents in regard to lifestyle, parenting, and schooling'.

The Future 

Candler Professor of Psychology Stephen Nowicki at Emory University, Atlanta, a co-author, and expert on LOC said: "It is possible for a parent to change their outlook; we've demonstrated in the past that parents who become more internal (ie, learn to see the connections between what they do and what happens to their children) improved their parenting skills which would have a positive effect on their children's personal, social and academic lives.”

Prof Golding said: "The next steps for this area of psychology will be for researchers to look at this at an international level to see if the findings are replicated. Other factors that will be important will be to undertake an intervention study to assess whether encouraging women to become more internal will improve the academic development of their children."

Front. Psychol., 08 February 2019 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00194

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