The Science Of…Thinking About Ancestors (And Why It Makes You More Successful)

The Science Of…Thinking About Ancestors (And Why It Makes You More Successful)


We all know that learning about our ancestors does us good. It gives us a feeling of identity, banishes any question marks about our origins, and gives us great stories to tell.

But make us more successful in life? Family history research surely can’t do this, can it? Well, an intrepid team of scientists from the University of Graz with a lot of time on their hands would beg to disagree.

The researchers, in fact, claim that thinking about your ancestors for just a few minutes can boost your chances of success in a job interview or an exam. The so-called ‘ancestor effect’ supposedly works by reminding your brain of the difficulties and hurdles your relatives faced and overcame, and gives you the strength to face challenges yourself as a result. The ‘ancestor effect’ appears to give us a stronger sense of identity and self-esteem, which can boost our performance in a number of areas of life.

The tests, using 80 volunteers, found that those who were tasked with recalling things about their ancestors performed significantly better than those asked to think of a more mundane memory (a recent shopping trip, or a day out). Those thinking about their ancestors also claimed to feel more confident about their performance before taking the research tests.

“We showed that an easy reminder about our ancestors can significantly increase intellectual performance,” said one of the researchers. “Whenever people are in a situation where such performance is extraordinarily important, such as exams or job interviews, they have an easy technique to increase their success.”

Dr Peter Fischer, from the research team, summed up his findings like this: “’Our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines. So when we think about them, we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.”

So there we have it: family history is not only fun, but good for you as well.

You can read the abstract of the researchers’ study here.

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