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Genomic prediction of cognitive traits in childhood and adolescence

Molecular Psychiatry (2019) | Download Citation


Recent advances in genomics are producing powerful DNA predictors of complex traits, especially cognitive abilities. Here, we leveraged summary statistics from the most recent genome-wide association studies of intelligence and educational attainment, with highly genetically correlated traits, to build prediction models of general cognitive ability and educational achievement. To this end, we compared the performances of multi-trait genomic and polygenic scoring methods. In a representative UK sample of 7,026 children at ages 12 and 16, we show that we can now predict up to 11% of the variance in intelligence and 16% in educational achievement. We also show that predictive power increases from age 12 to age 16 and that genomic predictions do not differ for girls and boys. We found that multi-trait genomic methods were effective in boosting predictive power. Prediction accuracy varied across polygenic score approaches, however results were similar for different multi-trait and polygenic score methods. We discuss general caveats of multi-trait methods and polygenic score prediction, and conclude that polygenic scores for educational attainment and intelligence are currently the most powerful predictors in the behavioural sciences.

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We gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the participants in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) and their families. TEDS is supported by a programme grant to RP from the UK Medical Research Council (MR/M021475/1 and previously G0901245), with additional support from the US National Institutes of Health (AG046938). The research leading to these results has also received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/grant agreement n° 602768 and ERC grant agreement n° 295366. RP is supported by a Medical Research Council Professorship award (G19/2). This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 721567.

Author information


  1. Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, King’s College London, London, UK

    • A. G. Allegrini
    • , S. Selzam
    • , K. Rimfeld
    •  & R. Plomin
  2. Department of Education, University of York, Heslington, York, UK

    • S. von Stumm
  3. Clinical Educational and Health Psychology, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, UK

    • J. B. Pingault


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AGA and RP conceived and designed the study. AGA analysed and interpreted the data. SS performed quality control of genotype data. AGA and RP wrote the manuscript. SS, KR, SvS and JBP contributed to and critically reviewed the manuscript.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. G. Allegrini.

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