Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Director, Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Centre, University of Colorado

Richard K. Olson is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and a Fellow of the Institute for Behavioral Genetics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in 1970 and joined the CU-Boulder faculty that same year. Professor Olson is a developmental cognitive psychologist with expertise in the area of genetic and environmental influences on reading and related skills. He has served as President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading and received the Society’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 2006. He has also been an active member of the International Dyslexia Association and received its Norman Geschwind Memorial Lecture Award in 2005. Dr. Olson’s highly collaborative research program on reading ability and disability has been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health since1979. In 1990 he co-founded the Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Center (CLDRC) with John DeFries, and he has served as the Center PI and Director since 2005. In 2000, he co-founded the International Longitudinal Twin Study (ILTS) of reading and attention with Brian Byrne in Australia and Stefan Samuelsson in Sweden. The CLDRC and ILTS research with identical and fraternal twins and their DNA has shown that most of the population variance in reading ability and disability is due to genetic influences, although as co-investigator Janice Keenan has shown, genes influencing word reading differ somewhat from those influencing comprehension. Together with co-investigators Bruce Pennington and Erik Willcutt, they have also shown that there are shared genetic influences on attention, executive function, and reading ability. Evidence for genetic influences emphasizes the need for extraordinary environmental support for many children with reading disability. Dr. Olson has worked with his former Ph.D. student, Barbara Wise, to show how computer programs in the Boulder Valley schools can help provide this support.


  • –present
    Professor of psychology and neuroscience director, Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Centre, University of Colorado


A & S Professor of Distinction, University of Colorado