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Genetics & Education - EDU00038H

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Kathryn Asbury
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

Students will develop a personal and evidence-based perspective on the genetics of education debate through close examination of behavioural genetic evidence regarding reading, maths, cognitive ability, psychopathology and home and classroom environments.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module aims to introduce students to the debate about whether and how genetics should be taken into account in the planning and practice of education. It will provide students with sufficient background in the behavioural genetics of learning abilities and disabilities for them to develop an informed perspective. Students will be enabled to independently analyse a range of sources from behavioural genetics, psychology, politics and education, and to critically engage with the overlaps between these disciplines. The module aims to support students in engaging with different forms of evidence and argument, reviewing their reliability, validity and significance to psychology in education.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

Students will:

  • Develop knowledge and the ability to explain behavioural genetic principles and practices e.g. twin studies and Genome-Wide Association Studies.
  • Explore and critically evaluate assumptions and evidence related to the heritability of learning abilities and disabilities.
  • Critically analyse the historical and political background to debates about genetics and education.
  • Critically examine the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of behavioural genetics with regard to education.
  • Develop a personal and evidence-based perspective on the genetics of education debate through close examination of behavioural genetic evidence regarding reading, maths, science, general intelligence, behaviour problems, and home and classroom environments.
  • Apply theoretical knowledge and understanding gained in lectures and private reading to a current issue they have identified independently.

Academic and graduate skills

Students will learn how to:

  • Assimilate information to develop an informed personal perspective on a controversial topic.
  • Effectively communicate a reasoned argument, and the evidence underpinning it, in both written and oral form.
  • Identify and synthesise a range of sources e.g. academic papers, media reports, policy documents and social media discussions, and critically evaluate their reliability, validity and relevance.
  • Analyse the ways in which theories and data from differing disciplines can inform each other and can be applied in different contexts to enhance understanding.
  • Work proactively and autonomously to select and manage information and use this to engage effectively in debate.
  • Present reading and ideas to expert and non-expert audiences in a poster format.

Module content

Lecture Content

The following outline is representative of the lectures that will be given but may be subject to small changes.

Behavioural Genetics: The Rise and Fall of a Discipline

  • Individual differences and inheritance
  • Galton and his legacy
  • Genetic determinism and Eugenics
  • Genetics as a Taboo subject

Genetic and Environmental Determinism

  • Blank slatism and the John/Joan case
  • PKU
  • Huntington’s Disease

Twin and Adoption Methods

  • Twin Studies
  • ACE estimates and the meaning of heritability
  • Equal Environments and other assumptions in twin research
  • The adoption method

Heritability and the Human Genome

  • Mendelian Genetics
  • Quantitative Genetics (R.A. Fisher; Donald Falconer and the ACE Model)
  • DNA and the Human Genome Project
  • Williams Syndrome

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Intelligence

  • What is intelligence and can it be measured?
  • The Flynn Effect
  • Twin studies of general cognitive ability
  • Moderators of the heritability of general cognitive ability
  • Using GWAS to identify ‘intelligence genes’
  • Genetics and intellectual disability

Genetic and Environmental Influences on Academic Achievement

  • Heritability of reading ability and the moderating effects of teachers and culture
  • Genetic and environmental influences on academic performance in primary school and at GCSE and A Level

Genes, Environment and Developmental Psychopathology

  • Prevalence of Childhood Disorder
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder
  • ADHD and Disruptive Disorders (hyperactivity, conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits)

Environmental Influences and GE Interplay

  • Shared Environment
  • Non-Shared Environment
  • Genotype-environment correlations
  • GxE

The application of genetic research in schools

  • Genetics and Learning: Key concept
  • Suggestions for Policy and Practice


Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework (3000 words)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework (3000 words)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Written feedback on assignment report sheet and face-to- face feedback in supervisions. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

Indicative reading

Asbury, K. & Plomin, R. (2013). G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Knopik, V. S., & Neiderheiser, J. (2013). Behavioral genetics. Palgrave Macmillan.

Walker, S.O. & Plomin, R. (2005). The Nature-Nurture Question: Teachers’ perceptions of how genes and the environment influence educationally relevant behaviour. Educational Psychology, 25, 509 – 516.

Harden, K. P., & Koellinger, P. D. (2020). Using genetics for social science. Nature Human Behaviour, 4(6), 567-576.

von Stumm, S., Smith-Woolley, E., Ayorech, Z., McMillan, A., Rimfeld, K., Dale, P. S., & Plomin, R. (2020). Predicting educational achievement from genomic measures and socioeconomic status. Developmental science, 23(3), e12925.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.