The heritability of general cognitive ability increases linearly from childhood to young adulthood

C. M A Haworth, M. J. Wright, M. Luciano, N. G. Martin, E. J C De Geus, C. E M Van Beijsterveldt, M. Bartels, D. Posthuma, D. I. Boomsma, O. S P Davis, Y. Kovas, R. P. Corley, J. C. Defries, J. K. Hewitt, R. K. Olson, S. A. Rhea, S. J. Wadsworth, W. G. Iacono, M. McGue, L. A. ThompsonS. A. Hart, S. A. Petrill, D. Lubinski, R. Plomin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

321 Citations (Scopus)


Although common sense suggests that environmental influences increasingly account for individual differences in behavior as experiences accumulate during the course of life, this hypothesis has not previously been tested, in part because of the large sample sizes needed for an adequately powered analysis. Here we show for general cognitive ability that, to the contrary, genetic influence increases with age. The heritability of general cognitive ability increases significantly and linearly from 41% in childhood (9 years) to 55% in adolescence (12 years) and to 66% in young adulthood (17 years) in a sample of 11 000 pairs of twins from four countries, a larger sample than all previous studies combined. In addition to its far-reaching implications for neuroscience and molecular genetics, this finding suggests new ways of thinking about the interface between nature and nurture during the school years. Why, despite life's slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, do genetically driven differences increasingly account for differences in general cognitive ability? We suggest that the answer lies with genotype-environment correlation: as children grow up, they increasingly select, modify and even create their own experiences in part based on their genetic propensities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1112-1120
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010


  • behavioral genetics
  • development
  • genetic variation
  • intelligence tests
  • quantitative trait
  • twins

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