The largest-ever genetic study on human cognition has found more than 1,000 links between people’s genes and how far they get in school.
The work, which involved DNA from 1.1 million people and researchers drawn from 40 institutions, led to a scoring system that can roughly predict how educated someone is by examining that person’s DNA.
Those with the lowest genetic scores had only a 10 percent chance of having graduated from college. By contrast, those in the highest quintile of genetic promise did so 50 percent of the time.
Until recently, however, scientists did not have the tools to locate the genes that influence human behaviors.
What’s changed is that researchers can now study far larger groups of people. That allows them to zero in on minute differences in the genome that, acting together, help explain how tall a person is, or how likely to develop a common disease like diabetes—or even how smart.
“This paper will [be] a landmark in this new kind of social science,” says Eric Turkheimer, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.
According to Daniel Benjamin, a behavioral economist at the University of Southern California who is one of the study’s lead authors, the predictions are still too unreliable to apply to individuals.
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