“Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult – heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone – it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.”
From UCL News, Same genes drive maths and reading ability 8 July 2014
Around half of the genes that influence how well a child can read also play a role in their mathematics ability, say scientists from UCL, the University of Oxford and King’s College London who led a study into the genetic basis of cognitive traits.
While mathematics and reading ability are known to run in families, the complex system of genes affecting these traits is largely unknown. The finding deepens scientists’ understanding of how nature and nurture interact, highlighting the important role that a child’s learning environment may have on the development of reading and mathematics skills, and the complex, shared genetic basis of these cognitive traits.
The collaborative study, published today in Nature Communications as part of the Wellcome Trust Case-Control Consortium, used data from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) to analyse the influence of genetics on the reading and mathematics performance of 12-year-old children from nearly 2,800 British families.
Twins and unrelated children were tested for reading comprehension and fluency, and answered mathematics questions based on the UK national curriculum. The information collected from these tests was combined with DNA data, showing a substantial overlap in the genetic variants that influence mathematics and reading.
Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths. However, it’s also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It’s this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are.
Dr Oliver Davis
First author Dr Oliver Davis (UCL Genetics), said: “We looked at this question in two ways, by comparing the similarity of thousands of twins, and by measuring millions of tiny differences in their DNA. Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths. However, it’s also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It’s this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are.”
Professor Robert Plomin (King’s College London), who leads the TEDS study, and one of the senior authors, said: “This is the first time we estimate genetic influence on learning ability using DNA alone. The study does not point to specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that genetic influence on complex traits, like learning abilities, and common disorders, like learning disabilities, is caused by many genes of very small effect size.
“The study also confirms findings from previous twin studies that genetic differences among children account for most of the differences between children in how easily they learn to read and to do maths. Children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognise, and respect, these individual differences. Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean that there is nothing we can do if a child finds learning difficult – heritability does not imply that anything is set in stone – it just means it may take more effort from parents, schools and teachers to bring the child up to speed.” Read the rest here.
Excerpted from Math Nerd Or Bookworm? Many Of The Same Genes Shape Both Abilities
by MAANVI SINGH NPR Health news, July 10, 2014
“…But it turns out that about half the genes that influence a child’s math ability also seem to influence reading ability, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
“You’d think that cognitively what’s going on with math and reading is very different,” says Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at Kings College London, and one of the authors of the study. “Actually, people who are good at reading, you can bet, are pretty good at math too.”
Twins Data Reshaping Nature Versus Nurture Debate
The researchers looked at 2,800 pairs of 12-year-old British twins who were part of the larger Twins Early Development Study. Some pairs were very nearly genetically identical; the other pairs were fraternal twins, meaning they are the same age and shared a quite similar early environment, but are no more genetically similar than other siblings.
As Genetic Sequencing Spreads, Excitement, Worries Grow
The scientists assessed each child’s math and reading skills based on standardized tests. To gauge how genes influenced the students’ aptitude, the researchers compared the test results of twin siblings as well as the results of unrelated children.
The researchers also analyzed the participants’ DNA, in hopes of turning up a particular gene or set of genes shared by people with high math or reading ability — genes that were, perhaps, missing in people with low abilities. (Some earlier, smaller studies had suggested such highly influential gene variants might exist). But no particular gene or sets of genes emerged. That may be because a lot — maybe thousands — of genes may be involved in helping to shape these abilities, Plomin says.
What the study did find was that children’s reading ability and math ability seem to be related — and much of that relationship can be explained by genetics.
The research also showed that genes can’t explain everything about our abilities, Plomin says. “These genetic propensities are like little nudges,” he says. Slight variations in your genes may nudge you to read more for pleasure. “And that can snowball,” Plomin says.
Teachers Who Made A Difference: Marin Alsop’s Math and Music Mentors
These kids who like reading may spend more time at the library or may ask their parents to buy them more books — and all of that practice reading will push their skills even further.
Other kids may find reading to be a bit harder due to genetics, Plomin says. “It’s not that the child just isn’t motivated, or that he’s just not trying hard enough.” But with some extra encouragement and support, these children can become good readers as well…” Read the rest of the article here…
My editorializing begins here …
Hmmmm… What are we as parents to make of the above information? Sooner or later, parents find out whether their child has an aptitude for academics(in relation to others in conventional schooling), whether their child is a reluctant reader or has any learning disorders …
We know blaming academic inaptitude on genetics is neither here nor there, after all, there are any number of studies that show us what are the significant factors that help children to succeed academically … See some of the following articles:
Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom, study finds (11 September 2013)
Children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers, according to new research from the Institute of Education (IOE). …
I think what all the diverse studies serve to show us, is that “talent is as talent does”, “giftedness is as giftedness does”, and might also we say (as a movie reference to Forrest Gump)… “genetics is as genetics does”.
One of the books that has influenced me more than others regarding education, knowledge and ability, and a academic success, is Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated“. In his book citing studies involving the largest number of test subjects and carried over the longest time period ever, he showed that what wins out at the end of the day in every field without exception, is hard work and diligent practice(though not blind and mindless work), motivation, commitment and tenacity, rather than inherited talent or giftedness. No matter how talented or untalented our child may be at reading or at math, our task is not just to help our kids find passionate areas of learning or a good environment for learning, but also to help each child realize that academic success (like success in many other areas of life) cannot be had without hard work, focus and concentration and “practice”(a loaded term in view of Colvin’s book), as well as to innately understand that the process of learning and knowing is in itself the reward.