• Open Access

Generalist Genes: Genetic Links Between Brain, Mind, and Education


Robert Plomin, Box Number P080, Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK; e-mail: r.plomin@iop.kcl.ac.uk.


ABSTRACT— Genetics contributes importantly to learning abilities and disabilities—not just to reading, the target of most genetic research, but also to mathematics and other academic areas as well. One of the most important recent findings from quantitative genetic research such as twin studies is that the same set of genes is largely responsible for genetic influence across these domains. We call these “generalist genes” to highlight their pervasive influence. In other words, most genes found to be associated with a particular learning ability or disability (such as reading) will also be associated with other learning abilities and disabilities (such as mathematics). Moreover, some generalist genes for learning abilities and disabilities are even more general in their effect, encompassing other cognitive abilities such as memory and spatial ability. When these generalist genes are identified, they will greatly accelerate research on general mechanisms at all levels of analysis from genes to brain to behavior.