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

9
Instinct and Choice:
A Framework for Analysis
William T. Dickens
The Brookings Institution
Jessica L. Cohen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Birds do not need to be taught how to build nests. Evidently the behavior is largely instinctual. Humans need to be taught nearly everything they do (or at least need to learn through other means, such as imitation). Further, our experience of our own behavior is that we make conscious choices—that we are the masters of our own ships. It thus comes as a shock to many people that genetic differences have been shown to be an important determinant of variation in a wide range of human behaviors.

Besides a number of psycho-pathologies,1 a large and growing list of behaviors—including major measurable aspects of personality (Loehlin 1992), political conservatism (Eaves et. al. 1997), religiosity (Waller, Kojetin, Bouchard, Lykken, & Tellegen, 1990), occupational attitudes (Lykken, Bouchard, McGue, & Tellegen, 1993), social attitudes (Martin et. al. 1986), marital status (Trumbetta et. al. submitted), and even television viewing (Plomin, Corley, DeFries, & Fulker, 1990)—have all been shown to be heritable.2

If a trait is heritable, then we know that it is subject to genetic influence. But the vast majority of physical characteristics that are genetically programmed are not heritable and the same may be true for behavioral characteristics. Heritability is defined as the fraction of the variance of a trait in a population that is due, directly

____________________
1
See Plomin, DeFries, McClearn, & McGuffin (2001) for a review.
2
This list is incomplete. See Plomin et. al. (1997) for a longer list.

-145-

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