The Link Between Genetics and the Love of Reading

The ability to enjoy reading not only depends on how much we practice. In fact, it seems that there are certain hereditary factors that are beyond our control.
The Link Between Genetics and the Love of Reading
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 13 May, 2023

Reading is one of the areas in which parents and teachers assign a greater effort when it comes to educating children. Indeed, they tend to urge, motivate, and invite them to read regularly, with the aim that they can benefit from its advantages. These range from improving academic performance to accessing all kinds of knowledge. Or, simply letting their imaginations run wild. However, not all children are receptive to the idea of reading and this isn’t only due to them being stubborn. In fact, a love of reading is partly down to genetics.

It’s an inescapable reality that, while some children enjoy reading and devouring one book after another, others are reluctant to read at all. In fact, they view it as more of a punishment than something to be enjoyed. As a rule, we attribute these differences to the stimulation offered by their environment. For example, we might believe that their reading habits aren’t being sufficiently encouraged at home or at school. But, we tend to overlook the genetic component.

boy reading a book

Enjoyment of reading is a matter of genetics

The dichotomy between genetics and the environment is a debate that affects practically all spheres of personality. Studies conducted with twins have been found to be one of the best ways of analyzing the influence of each of these elements. In this particular case, research was conducted in respect of reading and why some children choose to read more than others. The results were extremely interesting.

When the researchers compared groups of twins regarding reading ability, they found that their findings could be extrapolated to the general population. Heritability analyses showed that reading ability was highly heritable but genetic and environmental influences were equally important with regard to how much a child reads.

The results actually suggested that children’s reading ability determines how much they choose to read, rather than vice versa. We might presume that more practice gives them greater ability. Yet, it seems to work in reverse. Children with higher reading ability read more because they enjoy it more.

This is easy to understand. Indeed, for children with less ability, understandably, books will be less accessible and not so enjoyable. In fact, they may struggle to decipher the texts and understand and organize their meaning. These effects are even more visible when we think of children with dyslexia (for whom reading is a challenge) or ADHD (for whom staying focused on reading is a challenge).

boy reading

The influence of the environment

The above findings indicate that genetics has a great deal to say about the love of reading. But, what about the environment? Does it have any influence? As a matter of fact, one of the most relevant factors in this regard is the quality of teaching and how teachers approach learning to read. Research has demonstrated that this has an influence, but only to a certain extent.

In fact, if children don’t have good teachers, their potential doesn’t unfold. On the other hand, when they have good teachers, genetic factors determine to what extent their reading skills develop. Therefore, it’s something that’s completely beyond our control.

But, this doesn’t mean that we should leave everything to genetics as far as a child’s taste for reading is concerned. Indeed, there are important contributions we can make if we want our child to develop a passion for reading.

How to encourage a child to read

  • Employ good teaching methods. As we said earlier, the quality of teachers and the educational process is extremely relevant. After all, they can either promote or block the development of a child’s natural potential.
  • Encourage children to love reading and writing at home and school. Although not the determining factor, research suggests that these types of environmental influences have been shown to affect both a child’s enjoyment of reading and their literary abilities.
  • Offer opportunities for them to practice. The amount of reading can also enhance a child’s enjoyment of this activity. It can also help improve their fluency. Therefore, it’s positive to encourage minors to read frequently.

In conclusion, research has demonstrated that a child’s love of reading isn’t merely a result of how much they read. It’s also influenced by their reading abilities and skills. Since these are largely hereditary, we can’t push past certain set points. However, we can have a positive influence by taking advantage of the impact of the environments in which they grow up, both at school and at home.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Haughbrook, R., Hart, S. A., Schatschneider, C., & Taylor, J. (2017). Genetic and environmental influences on early literacy skills across school grade contexts. Developmental science20(5), e12434.
  • Taylor, J., Roehrig, A. D., Hensler, B. S., Connor, C. M., & Schatschneider, C. (2010). Teacher quality moderates the genetic effects on early reading. Science328(5977), 512-514.
  • van Bergen, E., Snowling, M. J., de Zeeuw, E. L., van Beijsterveldt, C. E., Dolan, C. V., & Boomsma, D. I. (2018). Why do children read more? The influence of reading ability on voluntary reading practices. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry59(11), 1205-1214.
  • van Bergen, E., Hart, S. A., Latvala, A., Vuoksimaa, E., Tolvanen, A., & Torppa, M. (2021). Literacy skills seem to fuel literacy enjoyment, rather than vice versa. Developmental Science, e13325.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.