APH researcher Elsje van Bergen (Associate professor Biological Psychology at VU Amsterdam) has received a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) to conduct research into the interplay of genes and environment in educational achievement.

Does your child read well because you have read to them, or because you have passed on beneficial genes? And do your genes influence how much you read to your child? Van Bergen will study in parents and children how genes and the home environment influence educational achievement. To discover which factors influence how children learn and progress, she will offer families access to online literacy and math games designed to boost learning.

Cycle of Educational Disadvantage

A significant risk factor for poor health and low income in adulthood is poor educational achievement in childhood. Poor educational achievement is influenced by numerous social, neighbourhood, classroom, family, psychological, and biological characteristics. A cycle of disadvantage arises by the fact that poor educational outcomes frequently run in families. This may be the result of inherited vulnerabilities (nature), unfavourable environments (nurture), or a combination of the two.

Van Bergen will use the ERC to increase our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the cycle of educational disadvantage. “Insight into why parents and children resemble one another will suggest ways to break this cycle. It will help policymakers target causal mechanisms so that all kids can learn and flourish”, says van Bergen.

The ERC awards the Starting Grants to fund emerging academic talent for five years to pursue  pioneering projects. The ERC committee considers van Bergen a rising star. They praised Van Bergen's earlier ground-breaking research and her creative scientific ideas, in which she combines educational sciences, psychology, and genetics.

Source: VU Amsterdam