Wednesday, March 21, 2012

behavioral genetics

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Topic Essay Assignment / Discussion on behavioural genetics / September 11, 00

Once Psychologists believed human characteristics were almost entirely the result of environmental influences, but such presumptions began to change in the 10’s.

Recently there has been significant advances in the knowledge of genetics thanks to the Human Genome Programme. Due to this research science is again focusing on the biological contribution to human behaviour. (Weiten 000) This enlightened research is known as ‘behavioural genetics’ a study of the complex relationship between genes and the environment, the core of its investigations is on aspects of personality, such as intelligence, sexual orientation, aggression and other antisocial conduct and also tendencies towards extraversion and novelty seeking. The focus of this writing will be on this particular field of science and its recent advances and limitations in research and also the issues of ethical management associated to this subject.

To study behavioural genetics in humans, researchers use techniques that sort out environment and culture from biology. Typically this involves studying twins and adoptees (Quantative) as well as studing the genes of peoples psychological traits (Molecular)

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Moleular Genetics is the study of genes known to influence brain function. Moreover in the present state of knowledge within this field, a plausible hypothesis can be established according to Rutter( 17) that will link almost any of the known genes within virtually any aspect of personality. Recently their has been a study that claims the identification of the genetic influence on a personality trait described as novelty seeking and a polymorphion in this associated gene for the D 4 receptor for dopamine.

(Ebsteen, R. et al 15)

However according to (Plomin & Caspi 1) there has been numerous attempts to replicate these findings with differing results. It appears that at this point in time the evidence is still open to question and not conclusive.

(Patterson, Sunohara & Kennedy 1)

In regards to Quantative genetic studies of personality the two most important conclusions to date are of broad generality. First across the range of traits heritability estimates of twin studies are in the range of 0.0-0.50 (Plomin, R. et al 14) Though estimates from adoption studies are consistently lower, suggests that non-additive variance may have an important role in personality according to (Bouchard & Loehlin 001). The above results were obtained for neurotisism, extraversion, conscientousness, open to experience, and agreeableness.

There appears to be a consistant pattern between these findings which extends over the entire ‘Big 5’ model. This personality model is known to cover all known personality traits. However sensation seeking is reported to have a much higher heritability ratio at about 0.60. (Zuckerman.16)

Consequently the gene contributions to personality through these findings appears to be approximately equal across all aspects of personality.

A Cross sectional study of men and woman in America revealed that neuroticism, extraversion and openness to experience show modest declines from teenage years to the end of their twenties whereas agreeableness and concientousness increase, changes reflect settling down and greater maturity. Similar trends extending into middle ages have been identified in five countries, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Portugal and South Korea.

(McRae et al 14) According to (Costa & McRae 17) the consistency of these findings have led some researchers to conclude that adult personality change, is genetically influenced.

It seems that support for a genetic view of individual differences in the ‘big 5’traits are highly persistent. Longitudinal research appears to show that the ‘big 5’scores are strongly correlated from one age to the next over intervals ranging from three to thirty years. A person who scores high or low at one age is likely to do the same at another.

(Costa & McCrae 14).

What this research is showing us is a high stability on these characteristics yet significant changes in aspects of personality.

Another powerful example of genetic personality influences come from the 0 year long Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart. This study is famous for finding the Jim Twins Jim Springer and Jim Lewis who met for the first time since birth at age and found they drove the same model of car, smoked the same brand of cigarettes, liked the same sports,married and divorced woman named Linda, remarried woman named Betty, had a dog named Toy, practiced woodworking and had a son named James Alan, the other James Allan. What is more significant when tested for personality traits such as sociability, flexibility and self control the Jim twins response was almost exact. (Leo 187)

While the Jim Twins are exceptional; studies such as the M.S.T.R.A. suggest that human temperament and behavioural tendencies are 0% to 50% genetic within the ‘Big 5’personality model. Based on this data Bouchard & Loehlin ( 001)conclude that genetic components influence personality considerably.

Above all this, behavioural genetics is a complicated and often controversial area of genetic research, as well as the validity of the scientific methodologies involved there are many questions to be answered on the ethicial, legal, social and practical implications. These include concerns about the effects of developing genetic tests (such as embryo scans ) for normal behavioural traits and the way in which this information could be used to try to predict change or select such traits.

Controversy also exists over the testing of children and adults who are at risk for genetic diseases, but don’t yet show symptoms. Take for example Huntingtons or Alzheimers disease, delay between the availability of diagnostic tests and effective intervention means that effected people will be livng with the fear of a future illness they cannot prevent. Some effected by these diseases already are suffering under discrimination because of their heredity, they have lost their health insurance, and some their jobs.

As a result responsible use of genetic technologies guidelines are being drawn up also withical principles have already been decised to ensure the privacy of genetic information. (Marshall, 16)

All in all the study of behavioural genetics was first established by scientists working within the context of the Eugenics Movement. This history remains part of what underlies many of the anxieties expressed today among both professionals and members of the public towards work in genetics on intellectual abilites and behavioural traits. However in this present era of history this science offers promise of great benefit to mankind.There will be many questions we will be forced to face as this science progresses . I will leave the last words in this essay with the B.P.S.

“The Notion that behaviour traits are passed from one generation to another’ in the blood’ has been common currency for a long time, it has been used to justify racism, persecution and genocide, it has been used to stereotype individuals and it has been used to proclaim superiority of an individual or group over others”. British Psychological Society


Bouchard, T.J. Jr & Lochlin, J.G (001)

Genes, evolution & personality Behav. Genet. 1, 4-7

Ebstein, R.D. et al (15) Dopamine D4 receptor exon III polymorphism associated with the human personality trait of novelty seeking. Nat.Genet. 1, 78-80

Costa, P.T., Jr & McCrae R.R (14). Set like plaster? Evidence for the stability of adult personality. In T.F Hetherington & J.L. Weinberger (Ed.s) Can personality change? Washington, D.C American Psychological Association.

Costa, P.T., Jr & McCrae R.R (17). Longitudinal stability of adult personality. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs (Eds.) Handbook of personality psychology. San Diego Academic Press.

McRae, R.R, Costa P.T., Jr., deLima, M.P., Scmoes, A., Ostendorf, F., Angleitner, A., MarusicI., Bratko, D., Caprara, G.V.., Barabaranelli, C, Chae,. J.J., & Piedmont, R.L. (1) Age differences in personality across the adult life span parallels in five cultures. Developmental Psychology, 5, 466-77.

Leo, J. (187. January) Exploring the traits of twins. Time, p.6

Marshall, E (16). The genome programs conscience. Science 74, 488-1

Patterson, A.D., Sumohara, G.A., & Kennedy, J.L. (1) Dopamine D4 receptor gene Novelty or nonsense Neuropsychopharmacology, 1, -16.

Plomin, R., & Caspi, A. (1) Behavioural genetics and personality. In L.A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of Personality Theory & Research. New York Guildford Press.

Plomin R., Reiss D. Hetherington, E.M., & Howe, G.W. (14). Nature and Nurture Genetic contributions to measures of the family environment. Developmental Psychology, 0, -4.

Rutter, M.L. (17)Nature,Nurture intergrationThe example of anti social behaviour American Psychologist ,5, 0-8

Weiten, W. (000) Psychology themes and variations (5th ed). Thompson learning Stamford, CT 060- 7477 USA.

Zuckerman, M. (16) The psychobiological model for impulsive unsocialized sensation seeking - A comparative approach. Neuropsychobiology, 4, 15-1.

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