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Researchers at the University of Amsterdam will research reading speed in Science Center NEMO. Which genes and environmental factors play a role in how fast someone can read?

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam will research reading speed in Science Center NEMO. Which genes and environmental factors play a role in how fast someone can read? Do parent’s reading skills predict the reading skills their children have? To answer these questions, researchers will run a series of experiments using families visiting NEMO. Subjects will also be asked to provide a sample of their saliva

There are significant differences in people’s reading speed. Research involving twins has demonstrated that this difference is largely determined by genetic differences and to a lesser extent by environmental differences. The UvA’s research team will attempt to discover which genes and which environmental factors influence reading skills. Researchers will also examine if it is possible to predict children’s reading skills based on the reading and reading-related abilities of their parents. If it appears that children’s reading skills levels can be predicted, it is possible to identify children with an increased risk of dyslexia as early as nursery school age. These children can then receive extra assistance when learning to read.

Nonsensical words and saliva

The researchers, led by Titia van Zuijen en Elsje van Bergen, will ask visitors to NEMO – parents and children – to participate in their experiment. Participants are first required to read a list of normal words and a list of nonsensical words. This is followed by two short tests where the researchers test skills that form the foundation of reading. Participants are asked to recite a list of numbers as quickly as possible. During this test, the speed at which the subject can articulate visual information into speech is measured. In the other test, participants have to change a sound in a spoken nonsensical word. This test measures the extent to which speech sounds can be processed and manipulated. Finally, participants in the experiment will be asked to provide a sample of their saliva. Using the saliva, the research team can isolate DNA and search for the genes involved in reading ability. This could potentially involve a large number of genes. Identification of specific genes could provide more insight into the neurobiological foundation of reading ability.

This reading skills research will be carried out by Titia van Zuijen, Elsje van Bergen and Peter de Jong (UvA, Child Development, Learning Disabilities Research Group), in collaboration with Simon Fisher (Max Planck Institute Nijmegen). The research will take place at NEMO during the Christmas vacation and the spring vacation period.

Note to editors

For more information, please contact Elsje van Bergen (email: e.vanbergen@uva.nl) or Titia van Zuijen (email: t.l.vanzuijen@uva.nl).