Genetic and Environmental Influences on Academic Achievement Trajectories During Adolescence

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Most studies have considered the effects of particular characteristics on academic achievement individually, which means that little is known about how they function together. Using the population-based Minnesota Twin Family Study, the authors investigated the effects of child academic engagement (interest, involvement, effort), IQ, depression, externalizing behavior, and family environmental risk on academic achievement (reported school grades) from ages 11 through 17. Hierarchical linear growth curve modeling showed main effects on initial reported Grades for all variables, and IQ mitigated the deleterious effects of family risk and externalizing. Only engagement affected change in Grades through adolescence. Influences on initial Grades were strongly genetically influenced, associated primarily with IQ, engagement, and externalizing behavior. Shared environmental influences on initial Grades linked engagement, IQ, and family risk. Genetic influences on change in Grades were substantial, but they were not associated with the academic, family risk, and mental health covarying factors. These results indicate that age 11 achievement and change in achievement through adolescence show systematic patterns and document the existence of individual differences in the commonly shared developmental experience of adapting to the school environment.

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