The Project Talent Twin and Sibling Study

Deanna Lyter Achorn, Ashley Kaiser, Lindsey Mitchell, and Susan J. Lapham; John J. McArdle and Carol A. Prescott, Department of Psychology, University of

This article, recently published in Twin Research and Human Genetics, focuses on the unique design of Project Talent, which includes twins, siblings of twins, and siblings in other families all nested within schools. The strength of this design is that by comparing twins and non-twins attending the same schools it is possible to estimate the extra-familial environmental effects that contribute to the similarity of twins.

This is an important issue, as what is often referred to as "family environment" in a standard twin design actually reflects all environmental sources of resemblance between siblings, including schools, neighborhoods, shared peers, and between-family effects associated with social class, religion, ethnicity, and other macro-level influences. Comparing brothers and sisters from within the same families is a powerful test of gender effects, and girls from opposite sex pairs can be compared to those from same-sex pairs to address hypotheses about prenatal androgenization of behavior.

The large sibling sample in Project Talent is useful for evaluating many hypotheses concerning the impact of family factors, gender, and birth order on a wide range of variables, including cognition, personality, and interests.

project talent logoProject Talent is a national longitudinal study of about 400,000 students who were in grades 9-12 in 1960. Created by John Flanagan, who founded AIR and with funding from the US Department of Education, the study assessed students in about 1,200 schools who participated in a two-day battery of tests and questionnaires covering aptitude, abilities, interests, and individual and family characteristics. Until 1974, the study followed these students, collecting data at key points in their lives – at 1, 5, and 11 years after their expected high school graduation date.

The purpose of the study was to (1) create a national inventory of human resources and talent, (2) better understand the processes by which young people choose and advance their careers, and (3) discern which experiences and influences are the most important in preparing students for their future.

Today, Project Talent is being developed as a resource on aging and the life course and offers the ability to study special populations including twins, veterans, and racial/ethnic groups. The existing data are being used to address questions about early life predictors of mortality, and sources of variation in intellectual abilities and achievements associated with schools, families, and biological mechanisms. In addition, a pilot study was conducted in 2011-12 to assess the feasibility of locating and engaging the original participants whose last point of contact may have been more than 50 years ago.

AIR partnered with the University of Michigan’s Center for the Demography of Aging (funded primarily by research investment funds provided by AIR and by NIA grants P30-AG012846-17S1 and U0- AG009740-21S2) to conduct a pilot study of about 1 percent, or 4,879 of the original participants. Prior to data collection, 15.4 percent of the sample was identified as deceased and 70.8 percent was located and presumed living, yielding an overall locating rate of 86.2 percent. Experiments were embedded in the design to examine the impact of incentive amounts, phone follow-up, and a consent request for linking to Social Security Administration records.

Full citation:
Carol A. Prescott, Deanna Lyter Achorn, Ashley Kaiser, Lindsey Mitchell, John J. McArdle and Susan J. Lapham (2013). The Project TALENT Twin and Sibling Study. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 16, pp 437-448. doi:10.1017/thg.2012.71.

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