Same Genes May Influence Reading, Math Skills: Study

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WEDNESDAY, July 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly half of the genes that affect children's reading ability also play a role in their math skills, a new study says.

Researchers compared genetic data and the results of reading and math tests completed by 12-year-old children from nearly 2,800 British families. The findings revealed a significant overlap in genes that influence both reading and math abilities.

The study, published July 8 in the journal Nature Communications, helps improve understanding of how genes and environment interact to influence children's learning abilities, according to the researchers.

"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," study first author Oliver Davis, of University College London, said in a school news release.

"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," he added.

"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," study co-senior author Robert Plomin, of King's College London, said in the news release.

"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," he added.

"Children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognize, 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," Plomin explained.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about learning disorders.