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

Foreword
Behavioral Genetics
in the Post-Genomic Era
Steven E. Hyman

As is well documented in this volume, studies of the genetic contributions to behavior have had a highly contentious and at times dark history. At its most extreme, the eugenics movement, which included behavioral geneticists, led to sterilizations in many countries, including the United States, and contributed to mass murder in Nazi Germany. More recently in the United States, controversy about behavioral genetics was rekindled, inter alia, by attempts to explain differences in IQ test scores among racial and ethnic groups by the finding from twin studies that demonstrated that genes substantially influence IQ. Despite the fact that little has been known until very recently about human genetic diversity as it relates to peoples with different geographic origins, and even less about the nature of the genetic contributions to behavioral phenotypes, several writers attempted to influence public policy on such matters as education. The history of behavioral genetics in the public sphere has proved problematic for its healthy development within its proper sphere, the laboratory, in several countries, most notably Germany. This history has also posed challenges to the atmosphere of objectivity and neutrality that is critical for any scientific inquiry. Ultimately the scientific community must play a role in managing the results of its inquiries, but in the long term, scientific inquiry cannot and should not be stopped even if we are worried about what we will find. In particular, contributions from behavioral genetics are much in need if we are to give ourselves the best possible chance to understand the panoply of serious illnesses that affect behavior and to devise better treatments for them.

-vii-

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