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Title: From cognitive abilities to educational outcomes
Author: Shakeshaft, Nicholas Graham
ISNI:       0000 0004 6349 3498
Awarding Body: King's College London
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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This project explores the genetic and environmental underpinnings of general and specific cognitive abilities, the relationships between them, and their associations with educational outcomes. Using analyses conducted mainly within the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), it first estimates the substantial genetic influences on outcomes at the end of compulsory education in the UK (General Certificate of Secondary Education grades; GCSEs), then examines the nature and structure of general cognitive ability (g) and two specific abilities, and finally uses these as predictors of the phenotypic (i.e., observed) and genetic components of educational achievement. The specific cognitive domains examined are spatial ability (the mental manipulation of objects) and face recognition. The former has been found to be a strong predictor of educational outcomes, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, the psychometric structure of spatial ability is highly ambiguous in the literature, reducing the clarity of its measurement and limiting its utility as a predictor; the project therefore seeks to clarify and refine it. Face recognition serves as an invaluable comparison: despite similarly being a visual perceptual ability with many of the same features as spatial ability, it appears to be highly distinct – previous research has found it to be largely unrelated to other abilities. In addition, face recognition is an important social skill; since education in practice is a highly social activity, it is also a useful predictor in its own right. By clarifying the aetiology of these general and specific abilities, and the associations between them, the project seeks to apply the concepts with greater precision to understanding individual differences in educational outcomes. The main chapters present results indicating that i) GCSE grades are substantially heritable (58%); ii) g is aetiologically uniform across its whole distribution, making it suitable as a linear predictor; iii) spatial ability is phenotypically and genetically unifactorial; iv) the dissociation of face recognition from other abilities is driven by its substantial genetic component; and v) these refined measures provide useful prediction of educational outcomes, both phenotypically and genetically: spatial ability strongly predicts STEM achievement, and face recognition (as an index of social skills) is an independent predictor of non-STEM subjects such as English.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available