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Acta Neurol Belg. 2006 Dec;106(4):191-207.

A longitudinal twin study on IQ, executive functioning, and attention problems during childhood and early adolescence.

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  • 1Department of Biological Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Variation in human behavior may be caused by differences in genotype and by non-genetic differences ("environment") between individuals. The relative contributions of genotype (G) and environment (E) to phenotypic variation can be assessed with the classical twin design. We illustrate this approach with longitudinal data collected in 5 and 12-year-old Dutch twins. At age 5 data on cognitive abilities as assessed with a standard intelligence test (IQ), working memory, selective and sustained attention, and attention problems were collected in 237 twin pairs. Seven years later, 172 twin pairs participated again when they were 12 years old and underwent a similar protocol. Results showed that variation in all phenotypes was influenced by genetic factors. For IQ the heritability estimates increased from 30% at age 5, to 80% at age 12. For executive functioning performance genetic factors accounted for around 50% of the variance at both ages. Attention problems showed high heritabilities (above 60%) at both ages, for maternal and teacher ratings. Longitudinal analyses revealed that executive functioning during childhood was weakly correlated with IQ scores at age 12. Attention problems during childhood, as rated by the mother and the teacher were stronger predictors (r = -0.28 and -0.36, respectively). This association could be attributed to a partly overlapping set of genes influencing attention problems at age 5 and IQ at age 12. IQ performance at age 5 was the best predictor of IQ at age 12. IQ at both ages was influenced by the same genes, whose influence was amplified during development.

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