The heritability of academic ability isn’t just down to intelligence, but a whole range of factors, according to new genetic research.
The study of 13,306 twins found that while intelligence was the most heritable trait, a number of cognitive and behavioural factors predicted academic achievement (Kraphol et al., 2014).
Exam grades were also affected by personality, well-being, self-efficacy (confidence in your own abilities) and behaviour problems.
Behaviour problems, self-efficacy and personality aren’t just down to the environment: they are also partly inherited.
Overall, the study found that 62% of differences between children on their exam results at around 16-years-old could be explained by heritable traits.
None of this means that an individual’s academic achievement is set in stone; rather it is a way of thinking about how different aspects of our nature are combined.
Eva Krapohl, one of the study’s main authors, explained:
“It simply means that children differ in how easy and enjoyable they find learning and that much of these differences are influenced by genetics.”
Twin studies like this rely on the fact that twins share roughly the same environment as they grow up.
They have the same parents and family as well as the same school and the same teachers.
Like any other siblings, non-identical twins share 50% of their DNA, but identical twins also share 100% of their DNA.
Using all this information, researchers can work out the relative contributions of the environment and the DNA to educational achievement.
Kaili Rimfeld, who co-authored the study, said:
“…our findings support the idea that a more personalized approach to learning may be more successful than a one size fits all approach.
Finding that educational achievement is heritable certainly does not mean that teachers, parents or schools aren’t important.
Education is more than what happens to a child passively; children are active participants in selecting, modifying, and creating their experiences — much of which is linked to their genetic propensities, known in genetics as genotype-environment correlation.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
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