Nature and Nurture: The Complex Interplay of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavior and Development

By Cynthia Garcia Coll; Elaine L. Bearer et al. | Go to book overview

5
Normally Occurring
Environmental and Behavioral
Influences on Gene Activity:
From Central Dogma to
Probabilistic Epigenesis
Gilbert Gottlieb
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The new discipline of the genetics of behaviour, to judge by some recent books, is caught in the dogmas of Mendelian genetics without regard to developments in modern genetics during the last ten years, and to modern experimental approaches to the genetic roots of behaviour. Books on the subject usually begin with an account of the principles of Mendelian genetics. The material on behaviour deals mainly with mutated animals and their observed changes in behaviour. That is exactly what genetic principles predict. If an important mutation should not be followed by a change in behaviour—then geneticists would have to worry about the validity of the principles.

What these books fail to pay attention to is the trend in modern genetics which deals with the activation of gene areas, with the influence of external factors on the actualization of gene-potentials and their biochemical correlates in behaviour. I would venture to guess that, apart from the dogma, the main reason for this silence is the fear of even the slightest suspicion that one might misinterpret such facts to mean that a Lamarckian mechanism were at work. (Hyden, 1969, pp. 114–115)

In the ensuing decades since Hyden made the above observation, things have not changed very much. A virtual revolution has taken place in our knowledge of environmental influences on gene expression that has not yet seeped into the social sciences in general and the behavioral sciences in particular. Aside from the feared

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