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Posted 03.15.06

Heredity Plays Role in Children's Reading Habits, Researcher Finds

Previous thought emphasizes environment and reading to kids

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Children are bound to love books if parents diligently read to them, surround them with books and start early. A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher says his work now shows that this is a common oversimplification. His latest research shows that genes, not just environment, play a large role in determining whether children will be bookworms.

Philip Dale."Children don't come into this world as clay to be molded," said Philip Dale, professor and chair of the Communication Science and Disorders Department in the School of Health Professions. "They do have their own interests because there is a genetic component."

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The study, published in Psychological Science with co-authors Bonamy Oliver and Robert Plomin, used data from more than 6,000 children who are part of the Twins' Early Development Study (TEDS). TEDS is a longitudinal study of twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. Genetic data from the twins have been collected since their first year of life and is ongoing.

The study found that two factors, environment and genes, account for whether a child will be an avid reader and listener to books even as a preschooler. Dale said parents often work hard to bring literacy to their children and are disappointed or feel like they have failed if the children have a lesser interest in reading than the parents had hoped.

"Genes tend to have a very broad effect and it is often more than one gene that determines the interests a child will lean toward," Dale said. "Environment tends to act as the specialist. Reading to children can increase their interest in books but because of the genetic factor, they may never take to the love of books that a parent may have no matter how hard a parent tries to teach it."

Children have their own tastes and preferences, according to Dale. He said it is important to respect their individuality when trying to increase their fondness for reading. It is important to be willing to adapt and accommodate a child's schedule and interests.

"Some children will show more interest in something at certain times of the day," Dale said. "Don't assume that your child shares your tastes. Be willing to pay attention to the cues from the child."



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