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Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2007 Oct;16(5):284-288.

Learning Abilities and Disabilities: Generalist Genes, Specialist Environments.

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Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London London, England.


Twin studies comparing identical and fraternal twins consistently show substantial genetic influence on individual differences in learning abilities such as reading and mathematics, as well as in other cognitive abilities such as spatial ability and memory. Multivariate genetic research has shown that the same set of genes is largely responsible for genetic influence on these diverse cognitive areas. We call these "generalist genes." What differentiates these abilities is largely the environment, especially nonshared environments that make children growing up in the same family different from one another. These multivariate genetic findings of generalist genes and specialist environments have far-reaching implications for diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities and for understanding the brain mechanisms that mediate these effects.

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