A Behavioural Genetic Investigation of the Development of School Science Performance

King’s College London, United Kindom

Supervisor: Robert Plomin

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Behavioural genetic research into academic performance has focused on reading, and more recently mathematics. The genetic and environmental aetiology of science performance in school has not previously been investigated. This thesis includes the investigation of the aetiology of science performance in a large representative sample of twins: The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). The research provides a developmental behavioural genetic investigation of school science performance within the normal range, and also at the high extreme of performance, including the links between science and other academic abilities. Teacher report data were available at 9, 10 and 12 years. Test performance in science was additionally collected at 14 years using a science test developed specifically for this project.

Univariate analyses of science performance yield no phenotypic sex differences and indicate that largely the same genes and environments influence performance to the same extent in boys and girls. Multivariate analyses with other academic abilities and general cognitive ability suggest that genetic influences on these diverse cognitive and learning abilities are largely generalist, and non-shared environmental influences differentiate these abilities. Longitudinal analyses of science performance produce a pattern of results in contrast to findings for other cognitive and academic abilities: For science heritability decreases from childhood to adolescence and shared environmental influences have a greater role for secondary school science performance. An investigation of science excellence indicated that the same genes and environments are important for science excellence in boys and girls, and science excellence had a similar magnitude of genetic influence to science performance in the typical range.

These findings have implications for educational policies and practice and for the design of molecular genetic studies, as well as informing the design of environmental research that aims to uncover the salient school and home environments that are critical for science development.

Related Publications

C.M.A. Haworth, P.S. Dale & R. Plomin (2009). The Etiology of Science Performance: Decreasing Heritability and Increasing Importance of the Shared Environment from 9 to 12 Years of Age. Child Development, 80 (3), 662-673.

C.M.A. Haworth, P.S. Dale & R. Plomin (2009). Sex Differences and Science: The Etiology of Science Excellence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02087.

C.M.A. Haworth, P.S. Dale & R. Plomin (2008). A Twin Study into the Genetic and Environmental Influences on Academic Performance in Science in 9-Year-Old Boys and Girls. International Journal of Science Education, 30:8, 1003-1025.

C.M.A. Haworth, Y. Kovas, P.S. Dale & R. Plomin (2008). Science in Elementary School: Generalist Genes and School Environments.Intelligence, 36(6), 694-701.

C.M.A. Haworth, P.S. Dale & R. Plomin (submitted). Sex Differences in School Science Performance from Middle Childhood to Early Adolescence.


Dr. Claire Haworth
SGDP Centre
Institute of Psychiatry
King’s College London
De Crespigny Park
London SE5 8AF
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