Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Dopamine gene variants correlate with learning style.

In the Editor's choice section of the recent Science magazine Pamela Hines points to work by Kegel et al.:
Some children, particularly those with a more fearful temperament, are more sensitive than others to the influence of parents, teachers, and environment. Studying preschoolers, Kegel et al. attempt to link this with a particular genetic polymorphism. Children played a literacy-geared computer game that delivered instruction and assignments to all participants, but differed in whether it delivered feedback about the children's choices. A feature that distinguished the groups of children was whether they carried the long variant of the dopamine D4 receptor gene, which is associated with lower dopamine reception efficiency. Children who carried this polymorphism were more susceptible to the effects of feedback from the computer program. They outperformed the control group when feedback guided their learning, and they did worse than the control group when feedback was absent. In contrast, children with the short variant of the gene seemed to be unruffled by the presence or absence of feedback. For education, just as for shoes, a good fit to the individual produces the best result.
Here is the Kegel et al. abstract:
Not every child seems equally susceptible to the same parental, educational, or environmental influences even if cognitive level is similar. This study is the first randomized controlled trial to apply the differential susceptibility paradigm to education in relation to children's genotype and early literacy skills. A randomized pretest–posttest control group design was used to examine the effects of the Intelligent Tutoring System Living Letters. Two intervention groups were created, 1 receiving feedback and 1 completing the program without feedback, and 1 control group. Carriers of the long variant of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4 7-repeat) profited most from the computer program with positive feedback, whereas they performed at the lowest level of early literacy skills in the absence of such feedback. Our findings suggest that behind modest overall educational intervention effects a strong effect on a subgroup of susceptible children may be hidden.

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