Hyperactivity and academic achievement could be due to genetic influences
Children who are hyperactive tend to do worse academically than their peers who are not hyperactive. Although the relationship between such behaviors as overactivity, impulsivity, and inattentiveness in children and poor achievement in math, reading, language, and other areas has been well documented, little is known about the reasons for this link. New research shows that the tie may be due to genetic influences.
The study, conducted by researchers at Boston University and at the Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry in London, appears in the May/June 2007 issue of the journal Child Development. The researchers examined the extent to which common genetic and environmental factors operate across hyperactivity and achievement in nearly 2,000 7-year-old pairs of twins taking part in the U.K.-based Twins Early Development Study. In the study, both parents and teachers provided ratings of twins' hyperactive behavior problems (e.g., restlessness, fidgeting, distractibility, impulsivity, and attention span). Academic achievement was based on teacher assessments of English and mathematics skills conducted at the end of the first year of primary school (equivalent to first grade in the United States).
Based on the study's results, the researchers concluded that hyperactive behavior and poor academic achievement are linked primarily because of common genetic influences. They posited two possibilities for how this could happen: It could be that some of the genes that influence hyperactivity also influence academic achievement. Or it could be an indirect relationship, as a result of genes influencing one behavior, which, in turn, influences another; for example, it may be that behaviors associated with hyperactivity may make it harder for children to learn in the classroom.
"Whatever the mechanism responsible, the finding of substantial genetic overlap between hyperactivity and achievement has important implications for research searching for genes associated with the two behaviors," according to Kimberly J. Saudino, associate professor of psychology at Boston University and the study's lead author.
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