Children from tidy homes could grow up more intelligent

IF YOU are the kind of parent who is constantly disorganised, then spare a thought for your children.

Growing up in a chaotic home could be bad for a child’s developing mind, possibly even restricting their intellectual progress, according to new research by child psychologists.

A relationship between disorganised, noisy and cramped homes and lower childhood intelligence has already been observed.

However, researchers have never been able to identify clearly whether the cause is down to socioeconomic status, genetics or the environment.

Now, by re-examining a database of twins born in the UK between 1994 and 1996, Dr Stephen Petrill and colleagues at Pennsylvania State University believe they may have ruled out the influence of being raised in a wealthy environment.

By noting the difference between genetically identical twins, and fraternal twins, who share only half their genes, the researchers hoped to separate out the influence of genes and environment.

The team collected information about nearly 8,000 twins aged three and four, including their family’s socioeconomic status, the level of chaos in their home and their mental abilities, which they measured with quizzes and vocabulary and grammar tests.

Results showed that the homes of wealthier and better-educated parents were slightly more organised.

However, after taking into account the large genetic contribution for intelligence, the team found that chaos and general untidiness in the home had a profound influence on cognitive skills regardless of being raised in more affluent surroundings.

Robert Plomin, a co-author of the paper, told the journal New Scientist: "It just makes sense. If a kid is in a really chaotic home, it is hard to imagine that they can learn in a normal way. Their surroundings just aren’t subtle enough for them to tease apart the world."

The findings also suggest that when the environment is more stressful, intelligence is more likely to be constrained by genes.

Dr Cynthia McVey, a senior lecturer in psychology at Glasgow Caledonian University, who is also a mother of four children, said: "Certainly if a house is very organised and not at all messy, then you are sending messages to your children, teaching them about order. Likewise, if it is utterly chaotic, then that sends the opposite signal."

She added: "However, I would suggest it can possibly be equally as bad to be obsessively and compulsively tidy about the house as it is to be chaotic, and it would be interesting to look at this also.

"Children who are not allowed some sort of freedom of expression and creativity, like preventing them playing with toys because it will make a mess - that is going to affect them."

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