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Department Faculty

Stephen A. Petrill, PhD

Why do some children struggle to learn to read, have difficulty with language, or experience challenges solving math problems, whereas other children develop these skills almost effortlessly? Why do some children demonstrate resilience despite environmental challenges whereas other children show difficulties despite significant levels of support? My research program addresses these questions by examining how genetics and the environment influence the development of the underlying cognitive skills related to reading, mathematics, and language. As described more fully in my lab webpage, we are currently conducting several federally-funded studies in this domain using quantitative genetic, molecular genetic, behavioral, cognitive, and neuroimaging perspectives. The goal of our work is to identify genetically and/or environmentally mediated biomarkers that help identify the varied pathways through which learning difficulties develop, with larger goal of developing biobehavioral models of prevention and remediation.

Stephen Petrill received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame in 1990, his Ph.D. in psychology from Case Western Reserve University in 1995, and completed postdoctoral studies at the Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre in London (UK) in 1997. Prior to arriving at Ohio State in 2006, Dr. Petrill held faculty appointments at Wesleyan University (1997-2001) and the Pennsylvania State University (2001-2006). He is associate editor of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, serves on the review boards of several journals, is the past chair of the Behavioral Genetic and Epidemiology Study Section at NIH, and is currently a member of the Basic Processes Review Panel at the Institute for Education Sciences.

Research Areas

Dr. Petrill is leading efforts to examine the genetic and environmental contributions to the development of cognitive skills related to reading, mathematics, language, and attention. These efforts span several projects including the Biology of Language Study, The Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects, as well as newer studies involving neuroimaging and eye-tracking approaches.

Selected Publications


Deater-Deckard, K., Beekman, C., Wang, Z., Kim, J., Petrill, S. A., Thompson, L., and DeThorne, L. (2010) Approach/Positive Anticipation, Frustration/Anger, and Overt Aggression in Childhood Journal of Personality 78:3, June 2010

Deater-Deckard, K., Sewell, M. D., Petrill, S. A., and Thompson, L. A. (2010) Maternal Working Memory and Reactive Negativity in Parenting Psychol Sci. 2010 January 1; 21(1): 75–79.

DeThorne, L. S., Petrill, S. A., Schatschneider, C., Cutting, L. (2010) Conversational Language Use as a Predictor of Early Reading Development: Language History as a Moderating Variable Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research • Vol. 53 • 209–223

Glover, M. B., Mullineaux, P. Y., Deater-Deckard, K. and Petrill, S. A. (2010) Parents’ Feelings Towards Their Adoptive and Non-Adoptive Children Infant and Child Development Inf. Child. Dev. 19: 238–251 (2010)

Hart, S. A., Petrill, S. A., Willcutt, E., Thompson, L. A., Schatschneider, C., Deater-Deckard, K., and Cutting, L. E. (2010) Exploring How Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Are Related to Reading and Mathematics Performance: General Genes, General Environments Psychological Science 21(11) 1708–1715

Petrill, S. A., Hart, S. A.1, Nicole Harlaar1, Jessica Logan1, Laura M. Justice, Schatschneider, C., Thompson, L., DeThorne, L. S., Deater-Deckard, K., and Cutting, L. (2010) Genetic and environmental influences on the growth of early reading skills J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2010 June 1; 51(6): 660–667.

Deater-Deckard, K., Mullineaux, P.Y., Beekman, C., Petrill, S. A., Schatschneider, C., & Thompson, L.A. Conduct problems, IQ, and household chaos: a longitudinal multi-informant study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50:10 (2009), pp 1301-1308.

Deater-Deckard, K., Mullineaux, P.Y., Petrill, S. A., & Thompson, L. A. Effortful control, surgency, and reading skills in middle childhood. Reading and Writing, v22 n1 p. 107-116 (2009).

Glover, M. B., Mullineaux, P. Y., Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S. A. (2009) Parents’ Feelings Towards Their Adoptive and Non-Adoptive Children Infant and Child Development Inf. Child. Dev. 19: 238–251 (2010)

Hart, S. A., Petrill, S. A., & Thompson, L.A. (in press). A factorial analysis of timed and untimed measures of mathematics and reading abilities in school aged twins.

Hart, S. A., Petrill, S. A., DeThorne, L. S., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L. A., Schatschneider, C., and Cutting, L. E. (2009) Environmental influences on the longitudinal covariance of expressive vocabulary: measuring the home literacy environment in a genetically sensitive design Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50:8 (2009), pp 911–919

Hart, S. A., Petrill, S. A., Thompson, L.A., & Plomin, R. The ABCs of Math: A Genetic Analysis of Mathematics and Its Links With Reading Ability and General Cognitive Ability. Journal of Educational Psychology, v. 101 no. 2, 2009, p. 388-402.

Mullineaux, P. Y., Deater-Deckard, K., Brown, S., Petrill, S. A., & Thompson, L. A. Parenting and child behavioral problems: A longitudinal analysis of nonshared environment. Infant and Child Development 18: 133-148 (2009).

Mullineaux, P. Y.a, Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S. A., Thompson, L. A., and DeThorne, L. S. (2009) Temperament in middle childhood: A behavioral genetic analysis of fathers’ and mothers’ reports J Res Pers. 2009 ; 43(5): 737–746.

DeThorne, L.S., Petrill, S. A., Hart, S. A., Channell, R. W., Campbell, R.J., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L.A. & Vandenbergh, D.J. Genetic Effects on Children's Conversational Language Use. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol.51 423-435 (2008).

Johnson, A. D., Martin, A., Brooks-Gunn, J., Petrill, S. A. (2008) Order in the House! Associations among Household Chaos, the Home Literacy Environment, Maternal Reading Ability, and Children’s Early Reading Merrill Palmer Q (Wayne State Univ Press). 2008 ; 54(4): 445–472.

Davis, O. S. P., Y. Kovas, N. Harlaar, P. Busfield, A. McMillan, J. Frances, S. A. Petrill, Dale, P. S. and Plomin, R. (2007) Generalist genes and the Internet generation: etiology of learning abilities by web testing at age 10 Genes, Brain and Behavior (2008) 7: 455–462

Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S. A., & Thompson, L. (2007). Task persistence, anger/ frustration, and conduct problems in childhood: A behavioral genetic analysis. J Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 48, 80-87.

Hart, S. A., Petrill, S. A., Deater-Deckard, K. & Thompson, L.A. (2007). SES and CHAOS as environmental mediators of cognitive ability: A longitudinal analysis. Intelligence, 35(3), 233-242.

Haworth, C. M. A., Kovas, Y., Petrill, S. A., and Plomin, R. (2007)Developmental Origins of Low Mathematics Performance and Normal Variation in Twins from 7 to 9 Years Twin Res Hum Genet. 2007 February ; 10(1): 106–117.

Kovas, Y., PhD, Haworth, C. M. A., BA, Petrill, S. A., PhD, and Plomin, R., PhD (2007) Mathematical Ability of 10-Year-Old Boys and Girls: Genetic and Environmental Etiology of Typical and Low Performance J Learn Disabil. 2007 ; 40(6): 554–567.

Peters, K. F., Saltsman, B. M., and Petrill, S. A. (2007) Twin Gestation Pregnancies: Genetic Counseling and Testing Experience J Genet Couns. 2006 April ; 15(2): 119–127.

Petrill, S. A., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L., Schatschneider, C., & DeThorne, L. (2007). Longitudinal genetic analysis of early reading: The Western Reserve Reading Project. Reading and Writing, 20(1-2), 127-246.

Petrill, S. A., Justice, L. M. (2007). Bridging the gap between genomics and education. Mind, Brain, and Education, 1(4). 153-161.

Y. Kovas, C.M.A. Haworth, N. Harlaar, S. A. Petrill, Dale, P.S., and Plomin, R. (2007) Overlap and specificity of genetic and environmental influences on mathematics and reading disability in 10-year-old twins Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 48:9 (2007), pp 914–922

Y. Kovas, S. A. Petrill, Plomin, R. (2007)The Origins of Diverse Domains of Mathematics: Generalist Genes but Specialist Environments J Educ Psychol. 2007 February 1; 99(1): 128–139.

Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S. A., Thompson, L., & DeThorne, L. S. (2006). A longitudinal behavioral genetic analysis of task persistence. Developmental Science, 9, 498-504.

Peters, K. F., Saltsman, B. M., and Petrill, S. A. (2006)Twin Gestation Pregnancies: Genetic Counseling and Testing Experience J Genet Couns. 2006 April ; 15(2): 119–127.

Petrill, S. A., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L. A., & DeThorne, L. S. (2006). Genetic and Environmental Effects of Serial Naming and Phonological Awareness on Early Reading Outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 112-121.

Petrill, S. A., Deater-Deckard, K., Thompson, L. A., & DeThorne, L. S. (2006). Reading skills in early readers: Genetic and shared environmental influences. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 39(1), 48-55.

Deater-Deckard, K., Petrill, S. A., Thompson, L. A. and DeThorne, L. S. (2005) A cross-sectional behavioral genetic analysis of task persistence in the transition to middle childhood Developmental Science 8:3 (2005), pp F21–F26

Y. Kovasa, N. Harlaara, S. A. Petrill, and Plomin, R. ‘Generalist genes’ and mathematics in 7-year-old twins Intelligence. 2005 September 1; 33(5): 473–489.