Genetic transmission of reading ability

Brain Lang. 2017 Sep;172:3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2015.07.008. Epub 2015 Aug 20.


Reading is the processing of written language. Family resemblance for reading (dis)ability might be due to transmission of a genetic liability or due to family environment, including cultural transmission from parents to offspring. Familial-risk studies exploring neurobehavioral precursors for dyslexia and twin studies can only speak to some of these issues, but a combined twin-family study can resolve the nature of the transmitted risk. Word-reading fluency scores of 1100 participants from 431 families (with twins, siblings and their parents) were analyzed to estimate genetic and environmental sources of variance, and to test the presence of assortative mating and cultural transmission. Results show that variation in reading ability is mainly caused by additive and non-additive genetic factors (64%). The substantial assortative mating (rfather-mother=0.38) has scientific and clinical implications. We conclude that parents and offspring tend to resemble each other for genetic reasons, and not due to cultural transmission.

Keywords: Cultural transmission; Dyslexia; Environment; Genetic transmission; Heritability; Offspring; Parent; Reading; Sibling; Twin.

Publication types

  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents / psychology
  • Reading*
  • Siblings / psychology
  • Twins / genetics
  • Young Adult