Heritability of word recognition in middle-aged men varies as a function of parental education

Behav Genet. 2005 Jul;35(4):417-33. doi: 10.1007/s10519-004-3876-2.


Although it is of lifelong importance, reading ability is studied primarily in children and adolescents. We examined variation in word recognition in 347 middle-aged male twin pairs. Overall heritability (a2) was 0.45, and shared environmental influences (c2) were 0.28. However, parental education moderated heritability such that a2 was 0.21 at the lowest parental education level and 0.69 at the highest level; c2 was 0.52 and 0.00, respectively. This constitutes a parental education x environment interaction. The higher heritability was due to a decrease in the magnitude of shared environmental factors, rather than an increase in the magnitude of genetic factors. Other cognitive studies have reported gene x environment interactions, but patterns may differ as a function of age or specific cognitive abilities. Our results suggest that shared environmental factors in families with low parental education have long-lasting effects on word recognition ability, well beyond any critical period for developing reading proficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Dyslexia / genetics*
  • Educational Status
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Semantics*