While the influences of genes and environments on cognitive development have traditionally been viewed as independent, if not competing, forces, there is an emerging theoretical consensus that cognitive development results from interactions between genes and cumulative environmental experiences. However, while the little gene-by-environment (GxE) interaction research on cognitive development that has been conducted to date has primarily focused on children's experiences during grade school, very recent work suggests that GxE on cognitive development emerges much earlier - as early as 2 years of age. In low socioeconomic status homes, genetic influences on infant cognitive function approach zero, whereas in high socioeconomic status homes, genes account for approximately 50% of the variation in infant cognitive function. Using data on approximately 800 pairs of fraternal and identical twins that were collected as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), this project will take steps to clarify GxE interaction effects on early cognitive development in three important respects.
Aim 1 : Identify Parent Behaviors that Moderate Genetic Influences on Infant Cognitive Function. For the first aim, this project will examine the roles that parent behaviors play in moderating genetic influences on infant cognitive function. A guiding hypothesis is that parental responsiveness to infant cues is crucial to the expression of genetic potential for early cognitive development.
Aim 2 : Understand the Association Between Infant Behaviors and Infant Cognitive Function. For the second aim, this project will examine the genetic and environmental bases for the relations between infant knowledge-seeking behaviors and infant cognitive function, and whether socioeconomic advantage and parental responsiveness moderate these relations. This will help to determine whether GxE interactions on infant cognitive functions can be accounted for by differences in levels of support of children's knowledge seeking behaviors.
Aim 3 : Link GxE Affects on Cognitive Function with School Entry Skills in Kindergarten. For the final aim, this project will examine the extent to which GxE effects on infant cognitive function extend to school entry skills (mathematics, reading, and attentional skills) measured at 4 and 5 years, and whether new GxE effects independent of previous GxE effects emerge at school entry. Identifying early life experiences that facilitate the expression of genes for healthy cognitive development and school readiness will support NICHD's mission to ensure that all children have their chance to achieve their full potential for healthy and productive lives.

Public Health Relevance

Cognitive function and academic achievement play fundamental roles in determining social, economic, and health outcomes throughout the lifespan. It is therefore critical to understand how children's early experiences affect their cognitive development and prepare them for school entry and sustained school achievement. This research will break new ground in identifying and testing mechanisms by which genes interact with socioeconomic status, parent behaviors, and child behaviors, to affect children's early cognitive development and school readiness.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Type
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
5R21HD069772-02
Application #
8290284
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-PSE-H (80))
Program Officer
Freund, Lisa S
Project Start
2011-07-01
Project End
2014-06-30
Budget Start
2012-07-01
Budget End
2014-06-30
Support Year
2
Fiscal Year
2012
Total Cost
$184,846
Indirect Cost
$59,846
Name
University of Texas Austin
Department
Miscellaneous
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
170230239
City
Austin
State
TX
Country
United States
Zip Code
78712
Briley, Daniel A; Harden, K Paige; Tucker-Drob, Elliot M (2014) Child characteristics and parental educational expectations: evidence for transmission with transaction. Dev Psychol 50:2614-32
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Cheung, Amanda K; Harden, Kathryn Paige; Tucker-Drob, Elliot M (2014) GeneƗEnvironment interactions in early externalizing behaviors: parental emotional support and socioeconomic context as moderators of genetic influences? Behav Genet 44:468-86
Briley, Daniel A; Tucker-Drob, Elliot M (2013) Explaining the increasing heritability of cognitive ability across development: a meta-analysis of longitudinal twin and adoption studies. Psychol Sci 24:1704-13
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Tucker-Drob, Elliot M (2012) Preschools reduce early academic-achievement gaps: a longitudinal twin approach. Psychol Sci 23:310-9