Expert reaction to genetics and GCSE achievement as published in Scientific Reports*

Press release via King’s College London:

Many of the same genes may affect GCSE results across a broad range of subjects according to a new study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

The research, published today in Scientific Reports, also suggests that educational achievement at GCSE is highly heritable, with over half of the difference between results potentially due to inherited differences in DNA.

Previous studies have shown that academic achievement in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science at GCSE may be influenced by the same genetic traits. However, it was previously unclear if these genetic factors have an influence on a wider range of academic subjects.

The researchers analysed genetic data from 12,500 twins** to investigate if genetic factors could influence GCSE results.

They found that academic achievement in English, mathematics, science, humanities, second languages, business informatics and art was affected by the same genes. This shared genetic influence was found even when genetic effects due to general intelligence were removed. More details can be found here.

Below is expert reaction gathered by the Science Media Centre.

Prof John Hardy, Professor of Neuroscience, UCL, said:

“Twin studies are a mainstay of behavioural genetics, but they make a simple assumption that is unlikely to be true: that is that we treat identical twins the same as we treat non-identical twins (who look much more different from each other).

“These results are interesting, therefore, but by no means definitive and it would be unwise to make educational decisions based on these data.”

Prof. Timothy Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London, said:

“Studies showing exam achievements (like IQ) have a strong genetic influence are not new. Unfortunately they are usually over-interpreted as presenting falsely a notion of fixed destiny.”

* ‘Pleiotropy across academic subjects at the end of compulsory education’ by Rimfeld et al. has been published in Scientific Reports at 14:00 UK time on Thursday 23rd July, which is also when the embargo will lift.

*** The twins are part of the Medical Research Council (MRC) funded Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). Find out more about TEDS.

Declared interests

Prof Hardy: None declared

Prof Spector: None received

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