MONDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Being poor can prevent young children from reaching their full genetic potential of mental ability, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin looked at 750 sets of twins who took a test of cognitive ability at ages 10 months and 2 years. During the tests the children were asked to perform such tasks as pulling a string to ring a bell, placing three cubes in a cup, and matching pictures.

At 10 months, children from all socioeconomic backgrounds performed the same on the test. But by 2 years, children from richer families scored significantly higher than those from poorer families, the investigators found.

The study results, published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, don't suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter. These children simply have more opportunity to reach their potential, explained study author Elliott Tucker-Drob, an assistant professor of psychology, in a university news release.

These findings indicate that "nature" and "nurture" work together to affect a child's development and that the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potential at a much younger age than previously thought, he added.

"You can't have environmental contributions to a child's development without genetics. And you can't have genetic contributions without environment. Socioeconomic disadvantages suppress children's genetic potentials," Tucker-Drob said.

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