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Heritability of Stroop and flanker performance in 12-year old children

John F Stins1*, G Caroline M van Baal1, Tinca JC Polderman12, Frank C Verhulst2 and Dorret I Boomsma1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Psychology, Free University of Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, ErasmusMC-Sophia Children's Hospital, PO Box 2060, 3000 CB Rotterdam, The Netherlands

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BMC Neuroscience 2004, 5:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-5-49

Published: 3 December 2004



There is great interest in appropriate phenotypes that serve as indicator of genetically transmitted frontal (dys)function, such as ADHD. Here we investigate the ability to deal with response conflict, and we ask to what extent performance variation on response interference tasks is caused by genetic variation. We tested a large sample of 12-year old monozygotic and dizygotic twins on two well-known and closely related response interference tasks; the color Stroop task and the Eriksen flanker task. Using structural equation modelling we assessed the heritability of several performance indices derived from those tasks.


In the Stroop task we found high heritabilities of overall reaction time and – more important – Stroop interference (h2 = nearly 50 %). In contrast, we found little evidence of heritability on flanker performance. For both tasks no effects of sex on performance variation were found.


These results suggest that normal variation in Stroop performance is influenced by underlying genetic variation. Given that Stroop performance is often hampered not only in people suffering from frontal dysfunction, but also in their unaffected relatives, we conclude that this variable may constitute a suitable endophenotype for future genetic studies. We discuss several reasons for the absence of genetic effects on the flanker task.