Research highlight

Genetics: Mathematics and reading ability have a shared genetic component

Nature Communications

July 9, 2014

Children’s abilities in reading and mathematics have a large and overlapping genetic component, reports a study in Nature Communications this week. The study highlights the complex, shared genetic basis of these cognitive traits and the important role that learning environment may have on the development of numeracy and literacy skills.

Cognitive traits have a significant socio-economic impact and increased cognitive ability has been shown to be associated with increased wealth and life expectancy. While mathematics and reading ability are known to run in families, the complex system of genes affecting these traits is largely unknown.

The Wellcome Trust Case-Control Consortium, in collaboration with Robert Plomin and colleagues, have carried out a comprehensive analysis of the contribution of genetics to numeracy and literacy skills in English and Welsh children, aged 12, using data from twins as well as unrelated children. Cognitive ability was measured using established tests of reading comprehension and fluency, as well as mathematics questions based on the UK National Curriculum.

The team estimate that roughly half the genes that influence reading also play a role in a child’s mathematics performance. This finding suggests that both a child’s learning environment as well as their genetic make-up contribute to the similarity in their reading and mathematics abilities.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms5204

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