The etiology of variation in language skills changes with development: a longitudinal twin study of language from 2 to 12 years


Marianna E. Hayiou-Thomas, Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK; e-mail:


The present study is the first long-term longitudinal examination of the etiology of individual differences in language from early childhood through to adolescence. We applied a multivariate latent factor genetic model to longitudinal data from the Twins Early Development Study in order to (a) compare the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences on language skills in early childhood (2, 3 and 4 years), middle childhood (7, 9 and 10 years), and early adolescence (12 years); and (b) determine to what extent the same genetic and environmental factors underlie variation in language skills at these three stages of language development. We found that while shared environmental influences appear to be dominant (latent factor c2 = .74) in early language, with a smaller though significant role for genetic factors (latent factor a2 = .24), the pattern is reversed by middle childhood such that genetic influences are substantially more important (latent factor a2 = .57–.63 at 7, 9 and 10 years and .47–.57 at 12 years) and shared environmental influences less so (latent factor c2 = .31–.37 at 7, 9 and 10 years and .31–.32 at 12 years). The increase in the heritability of language skills between early and middle childhood appears to be due to new genetic factors that come into play at that transition. In contrast, genetic factors remain stable from middle childhood through to early adolescence, and account for the phenotypic continuity in language skills across these two stages.