Genes have 'small role in children's reading ability'

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A child's genetic make-up has only a small role in determining how good they are at reading, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at the relationship between children's reading scores and their social background using data from a study of 5,000 children.

They then looked at how children's different genetic make-up for genes tied to reading affected those scores.

They found genes accounted for just 2% of the achievement gap between those of high and low social background.

Researchers from the Institute of Education, University of London, used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study to assess whether the tendency for those from a lower social background to have poorer reading skills than those from children of professional backgrounds was down to genetic differences.

Results of reading tests sat at seven, nine and 11 were then divided into five socio-economic groups.

'Infancy'

The researchers found that children with professional parents scored on average 60 out of 100, while children with unskilled parents scored an average of 42. Leaving a gap of of 18 test points.

They then took data on the children's DNA bases and looked at how variations in them tied in with children's reading scores. They did this by analysing the impact of three genes, KIAA0319, CMIP and DCDC2, said to influence reading ability.

They found the genetic factors explained just 2% of the 18-point achievement gap - the equivalent of less than half of one test point, according to the researchers.

Dr John Jerrim said: "We were thinking that there would be a comprehensive and substantial link because of previous research, but that's not what we found."

Earlier studies focusing on twins have suggested that 75% of the variance in children's reading skills is down to genetic factors, but this new research appears to challenge such claims.

Dr Jerriam added: "It is a very small difference and it may come back to the fact that we can only look at these three genes.

"Many more more genes maybe implicated in the reading process - possibly hundreds, each with small independent effects.

"We are not dismissing the role of genetics in influencing children's outcomes. We are simply cautioning the research of this kind is still in its infancy."

The study added: "On the basis of the evidence presented in this paper, we believe that social scientists need to be particularly cautious before advancing the view that genetics plays a major role in this particular aspect of child development."

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