Reading and Writing

, Volume 20, Issue 1–2, pp 51–75 | Cite as

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

  • Stefan Samuelsson
  • Richard Olson
  • Sally  Wadsworth
  • Robin Corley
  • John C. DeFries
  • Erik Willcutt
  • Jacqueline Hulslander
  • Brian Byrne


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.


Phonological Awareness Shared Environment Rapid Naming Twin Sample Spelling Skill 
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This research is being conducted with the support of the Research Council of Norway (154715/330), the Swedish Research Council (345-2002-3701), Stavanger University College, Australian Research Council (A79906201), and National Institutes of Health (2 P50 HD27802 and 1 R01 HD38526). We are grateful to the many twins, their families, and the twins’ teachers for their participation and to the Australian Twin Registry for its assistance. We are also grateful to expert assistance of our project coordinators and testers in Sweden (Inger Fridolfsson), Norway (Bjarte Furnes), the U.S. (Kim Corley, Rachael Cole, Pat Davis, Barb Elliot, Kari Gilmore, Amy Rudolph, Ingrid Simecek, and Angela Villella), and in Australia (Frances Attard, Fiona Black, Rosemary Brown, Marnie Church, Nicole Church, Maretta Coleman, Cara Newman, and Annette Stevenson).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Samuelsson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Richard Olson
    • 3
  • Sally  Wadsworth
    • 3
  • Robin Corley
    • 3
  • John C. DeFries
    • 3
  • Erik Willcutt
    • 3
  • Jacqueline Hulslander
    • 3
  • Brian Byrne
    • 4
  1. 1.Linköping UniversityLinköpingSweden
  2. 2.Stavanger UniversityStavangerNorway
  3. 3.University of ColoradoDenverUSA
  4. 4.University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia
  5. 5.Department of Behavioral SciencesLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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