Common DNA Markers Can Account for More Than Half of the Genetic Influence on Cognitive Abilities

Robert Plomin et al., Psychological Science, March 15, 2013


For nearly a century, twin and adoption studies have yielded substantial estimates of heritability for cognitive abilities, although it has proved difficult for genomewide-association studies to identify the genetic variants that account for this heritability (i.e., the missing-heritability problem). However, a new approach, genomewide complex-trait analysis (GCTA), forgoes the identification of individual variants to estimate the total heritability captured by common DNA markers on genotyping arrays. In the same sample of 3,154 pairs of 12-year-old twins, we directly compared twin-study heritability estimates for cognitive abilities (language, verbal, nonverbal, and general) with GCTA estimates captured by 1.7 million DNA markers. We found that DNA markers tagged by the array accounted for .66 of the estimated heritability, reaffirming that cognitive abilities are heritable. Larger sample sizes alone will be sufficient to identify many of the genetic variants that influence cognitive abilities.

[Editor’s Note: The full text of this study is available here.]

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