Annals of Dyslexia

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 25–43 | Cite as

Genetic and environmental influences on writing and their relations to language and reading

  • Richard K. Olson
  • Jacqueline Hulslander
  • Micaela Christopher
  • Janice M. Keenan
  • Sally J. Wadsworth
  • Erik G. Willcutt
  • Bruce F. Pennington
  • John C. DeFries


Identical and fraternal twins (N = 540, age 8 to 18 years) were tested on three different measures of writing (Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement—Writing Samples and Writing Fluency; Handwriting Copy from the Group Diagnostic Reading and Aptitude Achievement Tests), three different language skills (phonological awareness, rapid naming, and vocabulary), and three different reading skills (word recognition, spelling, and reading comprehension). Substantial genetic influence was found on two of the writing measures, writing samples and handwriting copy, and all of the language and reading measures. Shared environment influences were generally not significant, except for Vocabulary. Non-shared environment estimates, including measurement error, were significant for all variables. Genetic influences among the writing measures were significantly correlated (highest between the speeded measures writing fluency and handwriting copy), but there were also significant independent genetic influences between copy and samples and between fluency and samples. Genetic influences on writing were significantly correlated with genetic influences on all of the language and reading skills, but significant independent genetic influences were also found for copy and samples, whose genetic correlations were significantly less than 1.0 with the reading and language skills. The genetic correlations varied significantly in strength depending on the overlap between the writing, language, and reading task demands. We discuss implications of our results for education, limitations of the study, and new directions for research on writing and its relations to language and reading.


Environment Genes Language Reading Sex differences Twins Writing 


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Copyright information

© The International Dyslexia Association 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard K. Olson
    • 1
  • Jacqueline Hulslander
    • 1
  • Micaela Christopher
    • 1
  • Janice M. Keenan
    • 2
  • Sally J. Wadsworth
    • 1
  • Erik G. Willcutt
    • 1
  • Bruce F. Pennington
    • 2
  • John C. DeFries
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Institute for Behavioral GeneticsUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of DenverDenverUSA

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