Twins Study Looks at Genetic Influences on Thinking

Feb 16, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A groundbreaking study by UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity is focusing on twins in an effort to answer some long-debated questions about the rival influences of nature vs. nurture.

Researchers are seeking participants for the Texas Twins Study, which tests the genetic component of neurocognitive development among young adults. The study uses functional MRI technology to investigate among pairs of identical and fraternal twins.

Dr. Denise Park, director of the Center for Vital Longevity, is conducting this work in collaboration with Dr. Thad Polk, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology at The University of Michigan.

The study examines the pattern of in the human brain in response to various stimuli and tasks, as well as the differing roles played by nature - or genetics - and by nurture, which reflects how a person was raised and educated. The UT Dallas researchers use leading-edge technology to investigate a range of cognitive functions and their corresponding neuronal activity patterns.

By comparing twins, the researchers are able to learn more about the influence of genetics on our thinking and behavior by identifying differences in cognitive functions and neuronal activity. Identical twins share the same , while fraternal twins are no more alike than other siblings. To get a comparison between non-related individuals, scientists scramble the pairings and look at unrelated individuals from among the tested groups.

Neuroscientists have established that different categories of elicit distinct patterns of neural activity in the brain’s ventral , which is associated with object recognition and form representation. Different parts of the brain are activated when people look at faces as opposed to when they view buildings and other outdoor scenes. Meanwhile, certain parts of the brain are engaged by words and letters, while other sections play a central role in processing symbolic or non-symbolic numerical information.

In a previous study with twins, the research team discovered the role of genetics in cortical response to various visual stimuli. Scientists determined that neural activity in the brains of identical twins is more similar than that of fraternal twins while performing the same simple task, indicating genes’ influence on recognizing faces and outdoor scenes.

“The activity was more similar in identical twins when they were looking at pictures of faces and places than when they looked at pictures of chairs, for example,” Park said. “Recognizing faces and locations is vitally important to survival, whereas identifying chairs is not, so we may be more genetically wired for tasks that are closely connected to survival.”

Researchers know less about the role that heredity might play in neural function as individuals engage in more complex tasks. The current study seeks to expand on the findings from the previous work.

Participants will perform two tasks as part of the project. The arithmetic section involves adding and subtracting sets of dots and judging whether the dots are similar geometric shapes. In the word task, participants will decide whether certain letter arrangements match or differ.

Park said she hopes the study reveals clues about how much our genes determine our math and reading abilities. Based on the previous findings, the answer may be connected to how essential these abilities are to our survival.

After the completion of this round of research, Park may embark on another twins study. She said she is interested in testing sets of elderly twins to find out how their neural activity is modified by aging. Park would like to know if genes play a smaller or larger role as we grow older.

Explore further: Testing time for stem cells

Related Stories

Is political orientation transmitted genetically?

Feb 06, 2008

As reported in this week's issue of New Scientist magazine, research by Rice University professor of political science John Alford indicates that what is on one's mind about politics may be influenced by how people are wired ...

Face recognition ability inherited separately from IQ

Jan 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Recognizing faces is an important social skill, but not all of us are equally good at it. Some people are unable to recognize even their closest friends (a condition called prosopagnosia), ...

Sour taste make you pucker? It may be in your genes

Jul 11, 2007

Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center report that genes play a large role in determining individual differences in sour taste perception. The findings may help researchers identify the still-elusive taste receptor ...

Recommended for you

Growing a blood vessel in a week

16 hours ago

The technology for creating new tissues from stem cells has taken a giant leap forward. Three tablespoons of blood are all that is needed to grow a brand new blood vessel in just seven days. This is shown ...

Testing time for stem cells

18 hours ago

DefiniGEN is one of the first commercial opportunities to arise from Cambridge's expertise in stem cell research. Here, we look at some of the fundamental research that enables it to supply liver and pancreatic ...

Team finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia

Oct 23, 2014

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause ...

Rapid test to diagnose severe sepsis

Oct 23, 2014

A new test, developed by University of British Columbia researchers, could help physicians predict within an hour if a patient will develop severe sepsis so they can begin treatment immediately.

User comments : 0