Working memory (WM) encompasses both short-term memory (storage) and executive functions that play an essential role in all forms of cognition. In this study, the genetic structure of storage and executive functions engaged in both a spatial and verbal WM span task is investigated using a twin sample. The sample consists of 143 monozygotic (MZ) and 93 dizygotic (DZ) Japanese twin pairs, ages 16 to 29 years. In 155 (87 MZ, 62 DZ) of these pairs, cognitive ability scores from the Kyodai Japanese IQ test are also obtained. The phenotypic relationship between WM and cognitive ability is confirmed (r = 0.26-0.44). Individual differences in WM storage and executive functions are found to be significantly influenced by genes, with heritability estimates all moderately high (43%-49%), and estimates for cognitive ability comparable to previous studies (65%). A large part of the genetic variance in storage and executive functions in both spatial and verbal modalities is due to a common genetic factor that accounts for 11% to 43% of the variance. In the reduced sample, this common genetic factor accounts for 64% and 26% of the variance in spatial and verbal cognitive ability, respectively. Additional genetic variance in WM (7%-30%) is due to modality specific factors (spatial and verbal) and a storage specific factor that may be particularly important for the verbal modality. None of the variance in cognitive ability is accounted for by the modality and storage genetic factors, suggesting these may be specific to WM.
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