Behavior Genetics

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 437–445 | Cite as

Generalist Genes and High Cognitive Abilities

  • Claire M. A. HaworthEmail author
  • Philip S. Dale
  • Robert Plomin
Original Research


The concept of generalist genes operating across diverse domains of cognitive abilities is now widely accepted. Much less is known about the etiology of the high extreme of performance. Is there more specialization at the high extreme? Using a representative sample of 4,000 12-year-old twin pairs from the UK Twins Early Development Study, we investigated the genetic and environmental overlap between web-based tests of general cognitive ability, reading, mathematics and language performance for the top 15% of the distribution using DF extremes analysis. Generalist genes are just as evident at the high extremes of performance as they are for the entire distribution of abilities and for cognitive disabilities. However, a smaller proportion of the phenotypic intercorrelations appears to be explained by genetic influences for high abilities.


Genetics High cognitive abilities Twins Generalist genes 



We gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the parents and children in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). TEDS is supported by a program grant (G0500079) from the UK. Medical Research Council; our work on school environments and academic achievement is also supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (HD44454 and HD46167). Our work on high cognitive abilities is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (#13575). The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire M. A. Haworth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Philip S. Dale
    • 2
  • Robert Plomin
    • 1
  1. 1.Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre P080, Institute of PsychiatryKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Speech and Hearing SciencesUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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