Magazine article Psychology Today

An Invisible Edge

Magazine article Psychology Today

An Invisible Edge

Article excerpt

SCIENTISTS HAVE LONG known that complex characteristics like academic potential are influenced by genetics. Now, empowered by new technology and analytic methods, they are mapping the links between DNA makeup and life outcomes-which could lead to more effective strategies for giving children a boost in school and beyond. -MATTHUSTON

LITTLE DIFFERENCES ADD UP

Based on genetic data from giant samples, research teams can measure how thousands of DNA variants correlate with metrics such as years of education. They can use that data to compute a "polygenic score," a statistically weighted count of the relevant variants a person possesses. A paper in the journal Molecular Psychiatry reported that among U.K. teens, those with polygenic scores in the top septile tested a grade higher on a national exam than those in the lowest gene-based group. Such findings recast what we might be able to predict from a person's DNA, explains co-author Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at King's College London. For example, the fact that both parents in a family were poor students does not generally bode well for their children's performance, he explains-but one sibling may still be better equipped than another. "The huge difference with DNA is that you can make predictions at the level of the individual."

GENES HAVE A LONG REACH

A recent paper in Psychological Science examines how measures of performance in New Zealanders-from childhood through their late 30s-are associated with genetic variations. …

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