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Study Says Math and Reading Capabilities Are Driven By the Same Genes

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Image credit: Eugene Kim via Flickr Creative Commons.

According to the latest research released in Nature Communications this week, children’s reading and math abilities are closely associated with a same large and overlapping genetic component.

Although math and reading abilities are thought be relatively linked, little is known yet about how the system of genes could affect such cognitive traits.

To find out it, a group of researchers from the Wellcome Trust Case-Control Consortium was engaged in the project targeted on analysis of the influence of genetics on math and reading abilities.

Some twelve-year-old English and Welsh children sampled from 2,800 families with twins included were measured through reading comprehension and fluency tests as well as math questions on the basis of the U.K. National Curriculum.

In combination with DNA data, these tests clearly demonstrated that math and reading skills shared the same genetic components, which substantially overlapped in the genetic variants affecting the two cognitive traits. Half the genes linked with good reading ability of a child were also attributed to his or her math performance.

As Oliver Davis from University College, London explained, his team looked at this question in the way that they compared the similarity of thousands of twins and at the same time they also measured millions of tiny differences in their DNA. As a result, they found from both analyses that similar collections of tiny DNA differences are fundamental for both reading and math.

This study does not target on specific genes, but identifies that many genes of very small effect size could lead to the genetic influence on complex traits and common disorders.

It was also discovered by the team that the learning environment was of great importance in developing numeracy and literacy skills. It could add weight to the previous research that genetic differences was largely attributed to most of the differences in a child’s ability of learning to read and do math well.

According to Robert Plomin of King’s College London, the study author, although genetic difference in children is the reason why they find learning either easy or difficult, we can still do something with a child who finds learning difficult, even though such strong genetic influence does exist. Heritability does not mean that anything could be definitely changeable.

Image source: Eugene Kim via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Journal reference: Davis, Oliver SP, et al. “The correlation between reading and mathematics ability at age twelve has a substantial genetic component.” Nature communications 5 (2014).