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Strategies May Mediate Heritable Aspects of Memory Performance: A Twin Study

Nandagopal, Kiruthiga PhD; Roring, Roy W. PhD; Ericsson, Karl Anders PhD; Taylor, Jeanette PhD

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: December 2010 - Volume 23 - Issue 4 - p 224–230
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181e07d29
Original Studies

Objective This study examined use of strategies by twins during cognitive tasks to determine the effects of strategy-use on estimates of heritability.

Background Performance on many cognitive tasks has been found to be more similar for monozygotic (MZ) than dizygotic (DZ) twins. The cognitive mechanisms mediating these similarities are largely unknown.

Methods Think-aloud protocol analysis was used during 3 cognitive tasks typically considered to have high heritability and susceptibility to strategy-use. In addition, a battery of traditional paper tests was administered to examine potential effects of cognitive abilities.

Results Performance on 3 cognitive tasks showed effects of strategies, and performance on 2 of the tasks showed a genetic influence. On 1 of these tasks differences in strategies explained a significant portion of the genetic influences. Measures of cognitive ability and metacognitive knowledge could not explain individual differences in strategy use.

Conclusions This is the first demonstration that the estimated heritability of performance on cognitive tasks is mediated, at least in part, by the use of specific cognitive strategies. Future studies using similar techniques will permit a description of the development of cognitive mechanisms mediating heritable cognitive abilities, and a deeper understanding of the integration of genetic and environmental factors at the level of cognitive strategies and processes.

Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Supported in part by NIMH grant 067583 and in part by support from the FSCW/Conradi Endowment Fund of Florida State University Foundation.

Reprints: Kiruthiga Nandagopal, PhD, 336 Cubberley-School of Education, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-3096 (e-mail:

Received October 5, 2009

Accepted March 28, 2010

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.