, Volume 20, Issue 1-2, pp 51-75
Date: 29 Jun 2006

Genetic and environmental influences on prereading skills and early reading and spelling development in the United States, Australia, and Scandinavia

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Abstract

Genetic and environmental influences on prereading skills in preschool and on early reading and spelling development at the end of kindergarten were compared among samples of identical and fraternal twins from the U.S. (Colorado), Australia, and Scandinavia. Mean comparisons revealed significantly lower preschool print knowledge in Scandinavia, consistent with the relatively lower amount of shared book reading and letter-based activities with parents, and lack of emphasis on print knowledge in Scandinavian preschools. The patterns of correlations between all preschool environment measures and prereading skills within the samples were remarkably similar, as were the patterns of genetic, shared environment, and non-shared environment estimates: in all samples, genetic influence was substantial and shared environment influence was relatively weak for phonological awareness, rapid naming, and verbal memory; genetic influence was weak, and shared environment influence was relatively strong for vocabulary and print knowledge. In contrast, for reading and spelling assessed at the end of kindergarten in the Australian and U.S. samples, there was some preliminary evidence for country differences in the magnitude of genetic and environmental influences. We argue that the apparently higher genetic and lower shared environment influence in the Australian sample was related to a greater emphasis on formal reading instruction, resulting in more advanced reading and spelling skills at the end of kindergarten, and thus there was greater opportunity to observe genetic influences on response to systematic reading instruction among the Australian twins.