Genetic and environmental influences on early literacy


Address for correspondence: Brian Byrne, School of Psychology, University of New England, Armidale NSW 2351, Australia. E-mail:


Prereading and early reading skills of preschool twin children in Australia, Scandinavia and the United States were explored in a genetically sensitive design (max. N=627 preschool pairs and 422 kindergarten pairs). Analyses indicated a strong genetic influence on preschool phonological awareness, rapid naming and verbal memory. Print awareness, vocabulary and grammar/morphology were subject primarily to shared environment effects. There were significant genetic and shared environment correlations among the preschool traits. Kindergarten reading, phonological awareness and rapid naming were primarily affected by genes, and spelling was equally affected by genes and shared environment. Multivariate analyses revealed genetic and environmental overlap and independence among kindergarten variables. Longitudinal analyses showed genetic continuity as well as change in phonological awareness and rapid naming across the 2 years. Relations among the preschool variables of print awareness, phonological awareness and rapid naming and kindergarten reading were also explored in longitudinal analyses. Educational implications are discussed.