Children can differ deeply in their learning ability and how easily they learn

kids-learningYou may think you’re better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you’re probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person’s ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person’s overall learning ability.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. Twin studies provide a clever way of assessing the balance of nature versus nurture.

“Twins are like a natural experiment,” said Robert Plomin, a psychologist at Kings College London who worked on the study. Identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA and fraternal twins share 50 percent (on average), but all siblings presumably experience similar degrees of parental attentiveness, economic opportunity and so on. Different pairs of twins, in contrast, grow up in unique environments.

(Next page: Math versus reading)