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Genetics: Genetic factors may influence academic subject choice

Scientific Reports

June 16, 2016

Genetic factors may influence a student’s choice of which academic subjects to study at the age of 16 according to a study published in Scientific Reports this week. The results suggest that choosing to study A-levels - a two-year course, undertaken by students in England and Wales as a prerequisite for higher education - and the choice of subjects, may be partly influenced by inherited factors.

Students who decide to study A-levels are free to choose from over 80 different subjects. However, it is largely unknown why they differ in their choice of A-levels and what influences their decisions.

Kaili Rimfeld and colleagues investigated the extent to which a student’s decision to study A-levels, the choice of subjects and subsequent achievement can be explained by genetic or environmental influences. By comparing identical and non-identical twins from a UK-representative sample of 6,584 twin pairs, the authors found that the choice of which subjects to study was influenced 52-80% by genetic factors and 18-23% by environment. They also found that the decision to study A-levels was influenced in equal measure by genetic (44%) and shared environmental factors (47%). The authors suggest that A-level subject choice may, in part, be based on previous educational achievement, which is partly heritable.

doi: 10.1038/srep26373

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