Genetic and Environmental Covariation between Verbal and Nonverbal Cognitive Development in Infancy



Despite cognitive neuroscience's emphasis on the modularity of cognitive processes, multivariate genetic research indicates that the same genetic factors largely affect diverse cognitive abilities, at least from middle childhood onward. We explored this issue for verbal and nonverbal cognitive development in infancy in a study of 1,937 pairs of same-sex 2-year-old twins born in England and Wales in 1994. The twins were assessed by having their parents use a measure of productive vocabulary (the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory) and a novel measure of nonverbal cognitive abilities (Parent Report of Children's Ability). Verbal and nonverbal development correlated .42. A multivariate genetic analysis indicated that genetic factors were responsible for less than half of this phenotypic correlation. Moreover, the genetic correlation between verbal and nonverbal abilities was only .30, which indicates that genetic effects on verbal and nonverbal abilities are largely independent in infancy. These multivariate genetic results suggest that genetic effects on cognitive abilities are modular early in development and then become increasingly molar. The implications of this result for theories of cognitive development are discussed.