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Concept: Heritability


Online media use has become an increasingly important behavioral domain over the past decade. However, studies into the etiology of individual differences in media use have focused primarily on pathological use. Here, for the first time, we test the genetic influences on online media use in a UK representative sample of 16 year old twins, who were assessed on time spent on educational (N = 2,585 twin pairs) and entertainment websites (N = 2,614 twin pairs), time spent gaming online (N = 2,635 twin pairs), and Facebook use (N = 4,333 twin pairs). Heritability was substantial for all forms of online media use, ranging from 34% for educational sites to 37% for entertainment sites and 39% for gaming. Furthermore, genetics accounted for 24% of the variance in Facebook use. Our results support an active model of the environment, where young people choose their online engagements in line with their genetic propensities.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Gregor Mendel, Heredity, Heritability, Debut albums


While environmental factors are presumed to be primary drivers of food timing, preliminary evidence suggests that genetics may be an additional determinant. The aim was to explore the relative contribution of genetics and environmental factors to variation in the timing of food intake in a Spanish twin population. Because chronotype, bedtime and wake time are related to food timing, covariance with food timing was further assessed.

Concepts: Genetics, Nutrition, Environment, Food, Heredity, Heritability, Related


Both social environment and genetic factors are critical for smoking initiation and nicotine addiction. We reported that rats developed conditioned flavor (i.e., taste and odor) aversion to intravenously self-administered (IVSA) nicotine, and that social learning promoted nicotine IVSA with flavor cues. We thus tested the hypothesis that socially acquired nicotine IVSA is a heritable trait by using female rats of six inbred strains and six F1 hybrids. Each strain was tested for 10 daily IVSA sessions. We found that the intake of nicotine (15 and 30 μg/kg/inf) varied among these strains by 33.7-56.6-fold. The heritability of nicotine intake was estimated to be 0.54-0.65. Further, there was a strong correlation in nicotine intake (R(2) = 0.85, p < 0.0001) between the two nicotine doses. Another cohort of rats was given three daily IVSA sessions followed by five sessions that tested conditioned flavor aversion. Nicotine intake was highly correlated with the extinction of the conditioned aversion (R(2) = 0.58, p < 0.005). These data showed that nicotine intake in the socially acquired nicotine self-administration model is controlled by genetic factors and that the role of social learning is likely in facilitating the extinction of conditioned aversive response to nicotine.

Concepts: Genetics, Olfaction, Heredity, Breeding, Heritability, Hybrid, Twin study, Heritability of IQ


We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable in the early and middle school years in the UK. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether similarly high heritability is found at the end of compulsory education (age 16) for the UK-wide examination, called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). In a national twin sample of 11,117 16-year-olds, heritability was substantial for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects (58%) as well as for each of them individually: English (52%), mathematics (55%) and science (58%). In contrast, the overall effects of shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by members of twin pairs growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounts for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores. The significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement at the end of compulsory education are not primarily an index of the quality of teachers or schools: much more of the variance of GCSE scores can be attributed to genetics than to school or family environment. We suggest a model of education that recognizes the important role of genetics. Rather than a passive model of schooling as instruction (instruere, ‘to build in’), we propose an active model of education (educare, ‘to bring out’) in which children create their own educational experiences in part on the basis of their genetic propensities, which supports the trend towards personalized learning.

Concepts: Genetics, Education, High school, College, School, Heritability, Teacher, Pedagogy


Despite a century of research on complex traits in humans, the relative importance and specific nature of the influences of genes and environment on human traits remain controversial. We report a meta-analysis of twin correlations and reported variance components for 17,804 traits from 2,748 publications including 14,558,903 partly dependent twin pairs, virtually all published twin studies of complex traits. Estimates of heritability cluster strongly within functional domains, and across all traits the reported heritability is 49%. For a majority (69%) of traits, the observed twin correlations are consistent with a simple and parsimonious model where twin resemblance is solely due to additive genetic variation. The data are inconsistent with substantial influences from shared environment or non-additive genetic variation. This study provides the most comprehensive analysis of the causes of individual differences in human traits thus far and will guide future gene-mapping efforts. All the results can be visualized using the MaTCH webtool.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Natural selection, Species, Human height, Philosophy of science, Analysis of variance, Heritability


We have previously shown that individual differences in educational achievement are highly heritable throughout compulsory education. After completing compulsory education at age 16, students in England can choose to continue to study for two years (A-levels) in preparation for applying to university and they can freely choose which subjects to study. Here, for the first time, we show that choosing to do A-levels and the choice of subjects show substantial genetic influence, as does performance after two years studying the chosen subjects. Using a UK-representative sample of 6584 twin pairs, heritability estimates were 44% for choosing to do A-levels and 52-80% for choice of subject. Achievement after two years was also highly heritable (35-76%). The findings that DNA differences substantially affect differences in appetites as well as aptitudes suggest a genetic way of thinking about education in which individuals actively create their own educational experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

Concepts: Psychology, Genetics, Education, Concepts in metaphysics, Learning, Heredity, Heritability, History of education


Intelligence is a core construct in differential psychology and behavioural genetics, and should be so in cognitive neuroscience. It is one of the best predictors of important life outcomes such as education, occupation, mental and physical health and illness, and mortality. Intelligence is one of the most heritable behavioural traits. Here, we highlight five genetic findings that are special to intelligence differences and that have important implications for its genetic architecture and for gene-hunting expeditions. (i) The heritability of intelligence increases from about 20% in infancy to perhaps 80% in later adulthood. (ii) Intelligence captures genetic effects on diverse cognitive and learning abilities, which correlate phenotypically about 0.30 on average but correlate genetically about 0.60 or higher. (iii) Assortative mating is greater for intelligence (spouse correlations ~0.40) than for other behavioural traits such as personality and psychopathology (~0.10) or physical traits such as height and weight (~0.20). Assortative mating pumps additive genetic variance into the population every generation, contributing to the high narrow heritability (additive genetic variance) of intelligence. (iv) Unlike psychiatric disorders, intelligence is normally distributed with a positive end of exceptional performance that is a model for ‘positive genetics’. (v) Intelligence is associated with education and social class and broadens the causal perspectives on how these three inter-correlated variables contribute to social mobility, and health, illness and mortality differences. These five findings arose primarily from twin studies. They are being confirmed by the first new quantitative genetic technique in a century-Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis (GCTA)-which estimates genetic influence using genome-wide genotypes in large samples of unrelated individuals. Comparing GCTA results to the results of twin studies reveals important insights into the genetic architecture of intelligence that are relevant to attempts to narrow the ‘missing heritability’ gap.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 16 September 2014; doi:10.1038/mp.2014.105.

Concepts: Psychology, Genetics, Evolution, Psychiatry, Heredity, Heritability, Twin study, Heritability of IQ


Charles Darwin, while trying to devise a general theory of heredity from the observations of animal and plant breeders, discovered that domesticated mammals possess a distinctive and unusual suite of heritable traits not seen in their wild progenitors. Some of these traits also appear in domesticated birds and fish. The origin of Darwin’s “domestication syndrome” has remained a conundrum for more than 140 years. Most explanations focus on particular traits, while neglecting others, or on the possible selective factors involved in domestication rather than the underlying developmental and genetic causes of these traits. Here, we propose that the domestication syndrome results predominantly from mild neural crest cell deficits during embryonic development. Most of the modified traits, both morphological and physiological, can be readily explained as direct consequences of such deficiencies, while other traits are explicable as indirect consequences. We first show how the hypothesis can account for the multiple, apparently unrelated traits of the syndrome and then explore its genetic dimensions and predictions, reviewing the available genetic evidence. The article concludes with a brief discussion of some genetic and developmental questions raised by the idea, along with specific predictions and experimental tests.

Concepts: Scientific method, Genetics, Natural selection, Biology, Embryo, Heredity, Heritability, Charles Darwin


Intelligence - the ability to learn, reason and solve problems - is at the forefront of behavioural genetic research. Intelligence is highly heritable and predicts important educational, occupational and health outcomes better than any other trait. Recent genome-wide association studies have successfully identified inherited genome sequence differences that account for 20% of the 50% heritability of intelligence. These findings open new avenues for research into the causes and consequences of intelligence using genome-wide polygenic scores that aggregate the effects of thousands of genetic variants.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Human Genome Project, Genome, Genomics, Heredity, Heritability


Specific cognitive abilities in diverse domains are typically found to be highly heritable and substantially correlated with general cognitive ability (g), both phenotypically and genetically. Recent twin studies have found the ability to memorize and recognize faces to be an exception, being similarly heritable but phenotypically substantially uncorrelated both with g and with general object recognition. However, the genetic relationships between face recognition and other abilities (the extent to which they share a common genetic etiology) cannot be determined from phenotypic associations. In this, to our knowledge, first study of the genetic associations between face recognition and other domains, 2,000 18- and 19-year-old United Kingdom twins completed tests assessing their face recognition, object recognition, and general cognitive abilities. Results confirmed the substantial heritability of face recognition (61%), and multivariate genetic analyses found that most of this genetic influence is unique and not shared with other cognitive abilities.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Cognition, Object, Face perception, Heredity, Heritability