September 23, 2009
Genetic Testing To Enable Personalized Learning Strategies

An article in New Scientist takes a look at recent neuroscience research on learning. Among the topics covered: The COMT gene which is involved in dopamine metabolism has a version that improves the ability to pay attention.

Education before school can have benefits further down the track, Posner says. The neurotransmitter dopamine has been shown to play an important role in the function of the anterior cingulate gyrus, and genetic variations in the dopamine system seem to interact with parenting quality to affect executive function. Posner found that children between 18 and 21 months old with a particularly active variant of the COMT gene, which leads to less dopamine transmission, showed improved attention compared with those carrying other variants. The children also responded especially well to high-quality parenting (Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.05.059).

The article discusses how individual genetic profiles could lead to personalized methods to optimize learning. In my view the use of such genetically guided teaching strategies will increase differences in educational outcome. Look at the COMT variant mentioned above. Kids who have it will benefit more from high-quality parenting. Okay, so kids identified from genetic testing as having greater capacity to pay attention will get taught stuff faster and more intensely because they'll be recognized as more able to stay focused and absorb information from longer stretches of learning. They'll rise above their peers that much faster.

Advances in methods of teaching will, on average, amplify the effects of differences in abilities. Only gene therapies, cell therapies, and other methods for changing brain metabolism can enable the cognitively less well endowed close some of the gap with the cognitively most able.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 September 23 12:07 AM  Brain Genetics

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