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Open Access - No Logon Required Volume 14 - Part 3 - (March 2001)

Genetics and behaviour - peer commentary

Robert Plomin argues that psychologists should prepare to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks that will emerge from DNA research. Commentaries are provided by Martin Richards, Jonathan Flint, Steven Rose, Anita Thapar and Jane Holmes, Theresa Marteau and Andrew Wilkie.

Pages: 134-153

ASK any psychologist to complete the following phrase: ‘nature–nurture _________’. The answer will no doubt be ‘debate’ or ‘controversy’. But the controversy that swirled around behavioural genetics research in psychology during the 1970s has largely faded. During the 1980s and, especially, the 1990s, psychology became much more accepting of genetic influence, as can be seen in the increasing number of behavioural genetic articles in mainstream psychology journals and in research grants. One symbol of this change was the 1992 centennial conference of the American Psychological Association. In preparation for the conference, a committee selected two themes that best represented the past, present, and future of psychology. One of the two themes chosen was behavioural genetics (Plomin & McClearn, 1993). In my view, this choice represents one of the most dramatic shifts in the modern history of psychology. Indeed, the wave of acceptance of genetic influence in psychology is growing into a tidal wave that threatens to engulf key messages coming from behavioural genetic research. The first message is that genes play a surprisingly important role throughout psychology. But the second message is just as important: individual differences in complex psychological traits are due at least as much to environmental influences as they are to genetic influences. In fact, behavioural genetic research provides the strongest available evidence for the importance of environmental factors. But in some areas of psychology, especially psychopathology, the pendulum representing the accepted view may be swinging too far from environmental determinism to genetic determinism.

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