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Elsje van Bergen receives ERC Starting Grant of 1.66 million 

22 November 2022
Biological psychologist Elsje van Bergen 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.

Growing up among bright books and generous genes
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.

“My focus is on discovering which aspects of the home environment impact children’s language, reading and math development,” says van Bergen. “Children, whose parents talk or read less with them, generally do less well at school. This is seen as cause and effect, but parents provide their children not only the home environment, but also their genes. Only if we control for inherited predisposition, or if we conduct a randomized controlled trial, can we discover the effect of the learning environment at home.”

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.

Van Bergen is associate professor at the department of Biological Psychology and at the Netherlands Twin Register. 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.

Pioneering Research
The ERC awards the Starting Grants to fund emerging academic talent for five years to pursue  pioneering projects. A total of 408 outstanding young scientists across Europe have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant. For more information, see the ERC's press release.

Copyright photo: Yvonne Compier