The heritability of reading and reading-related neurocognitive components: A multi-level meta-analysis

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Feb:121:175-200. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.11.016. Epub 2020 Nov 24.


Reading ability is a complex task requiring the integration of multiple cognitive and perceptual systems supporting language, visual and orthographic processes, working memory, attention, motor movements, and higher-level comprehension and cognition. Estimates of genetic and environmental influences for some of these reading-related neurocognitive components vary across reports. By using a multi-level meta-analysis approach, we synthesized the results of behavioral genetic research on reading-related neurocognitive components (i.e. general reading, letter-word knowledge, phonological decoding, reading comprehension, spelling, phonological awareness, rapid automatized naming, and language) of 49 twin studies spanning 4.1-18.5 years of age, with a total sample size of more than 38,000 individuals. Except for language for which shared environment seems to play a more important role, the causal architecture across most of the reading-related neurocognitive components can be represented by the following equation a² > e² > c². Moderators analysis revealed that sex and spoken language did not affect the heritability of any reading-related skills; school grade levels moderated the heritability of general reading, reading comprehension and phonological awareness.

Keywords: Genetics; Heritability; Meta-analysis; Reading-related skills; Twin study.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Comprehension*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Linguistics
  • Reading*