Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



Genetic link found between reading and maths ability in children

14 July 2014

By Michelle Downes

Appeared in BioNews 762

Around half of the genes that influence reading ability are also involved in mathematical aptitude, a study has found.

The study looked at 12-year-old children from nearly 2,800 British families. By comparing the reading and maths ability of twins with sets of children who were not genetically related, they found that there was a 'substantial overlap in the genetic variants' influencing both skills.

These findings may help to explain why some children acquire academic skills with greater ease than others and also dispel the idea that mathematics and reading are two separate skills with no overlap.

Professor Robert Plomin, from King's College London, senior author on the study, said that 'children differ genetically in how easy or difficult they find learning, and we need to recognise, and respect, these individual differences'.

But the researchers also maintained that environment plays a huge role, saying that a supportive learning environment will give some children the opportunity to overcome any genetically predetermined gaps in literacy or numeracy acquisition.

'Finding such strong genetic influence does not mean 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 that child up to speed'.

First author on the study, Dr Oliver Davis from University College London, said: 'It's this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are'.

The researchers tested the children's reading comprehension and fluency skills as well as mathematical skills, based on the UK curriculum.

The study, which used data from the Twins Early Development Study, did not pinpoint any specific genes linked to literacy or numeracy, but rather suggests that a genetic predisposition for these complex traits and associated disorders are caused by subtle differences in many different genes.

Dr John Jerrim of the Institute of Education told the BBC: 'Until researchers are able to identify the specific genes that are thought to influence children's reading and math skills, and show that such associations are robust in numerous academic studies, then such work has little relevance for public policy'.


20 June 2016 - by Dr Ashley Cartwright 
Genetic factors influence not just achievement in further education, but also what subjects students take, a study suggests...
10 August 2015 - by Matthew Thomas 
The Guardian's science editor Ian Sample discusses research by Professor Robert Plomin on the importance of genes in academic achievement, and the consequences of this research for education policy...
03 August 2015 - by Professor Darren Griffin 
A recent report on the heritability of exam results was a well written, clear and robust study in a highly socially relevant area, but a danger lies in how the results could be misinterpreted...
27 July 2015 - by Dr Charlotte Warren-Gash 
The educational achievement of British teenagers is highly heritable across a range of academic subjects, according to researchers at King's College London...
13 October 2014 - by Chris Baldacci 
Researchers may have finally settled the question of which matters more for a child's development - nature or nurture; and nature appears to be the winner, according to a study looking at GCSE scores...

28 May 2014 - by Ari Haque 
The controversy posed by the question of how much genetics can influence intelligence and, in turn, the dilemma posed by what this should mean for educational policy are presented in a balanced, reasoned manner here...
17 February 2014 - by Chee Hoe Low 
A gene associated with thinner grey matter, which contributes to lower intellectual ability, has been identified by scientists...
16 December 2013 - by Rhys Baker 
Genetics may have a greater impact on the differences between students' GCSE results than upbringing or teaching, according to research from King's College London...
04 November 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Underlying the genetics of intelligence debate is our strong attachment to the idea of 'potential' and freedom to fulfil it. This blank slate approach to achievement is seductive, but is it based in fact?...

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation