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Genetic influence on general mental ability increases between infancy and middle childhood

Abstract

Adoption studies can provide direct evidence for the independent effects of family environment and heredity that are always confounded in intact nuclear families1–3. When children are separated from their biological mothers shortly after birth and placed non-selectively in adoptive homes, adoptive-parent/adopted-child resemblance can be ascribed to cultural transmission, whereas biological-parent/adopted-child similarities are due to heritable factors. Furthermore, a longitudinal adoption study facilitates examination of changes in these two main sources of variation during development. The Colorado Adoption Project is the first large-scale longitudinal adoption study of behavioural development and was initiated in 19754. Data were collected from biological parents of 245 adopted children, the adoptive parents and parents of 245 matched nonadopted children. The children have subsequently been tested at 1, 2, 3 and 4 years of age, and at the end of their first year in primary school (average age, 7.4 years). The number of subjects tested is now adequate for analysis of data over 7 years. The results provide conclusive evidence for increasing heritable variation of general mental ability, ranging from 9% at 1 year of age to 36% at 7 years.

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