Genes

Genetics is the study of how traitsare passed on from parents to children. Genetics have been observed and studiedfor a long time, constantly changing, evolving and challenging the researchthroughout the years. Behavioral genetics is the study of the relative effectsof heredity and the environment on behavior and mental processes.             Inorder to understand behavioral genetics, it’s important to understand how andwhere your genes and genetic make-up come from. In the beginning, we haveconception.

At this time, each parent contributes chromosomes containing DNA.DNA is the material in which is encrypted with genes. Humans have differentDNA, each having their own distinguished and unique features. However, this isnot the case for identical twins. The characteristics we possess are allrelated to which genes we possess, controlling the transmission of traits. Sometraits, like a blood type or a widow’s peak, are only defined from one singlegene.

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Other traits, such as eye color or hair color, are polygenic, meaningthey are controlled by multiple genes, some of which are dominant and some thatare recessive.             Otherthan studying and learning about how genes affect us as individuals, behavioralgenetics is also the study of how and when they are passed onto one generationto another (Wiley, 2015). This is why scientists study identical and fraternaltwins.

Identical twins share all of the same genes because they develop fromone egg, fertilized by one sperm. They are always the same sex and always havethe same genetic makeup. Fraternal twins are a little different.

They onlyshare about half of their genes and are formed when two separate spermfertilize two separate eggs, this is why fraternal twins can be either the oppositeor the same sex. Ironically, fraternal twins are no more genetically similarthan non-twin siblings, they just share identical environments for the ninemonths they are in the womb.             Somestudies that test intelligences between twins show that identical twins havemore similar intelligence test scores than fraternal twins (Plomin &Spinath, 2004; Trzaskowski et al., 2013) which would imply that the geneticmakeup of a person influences their intelligence. Since identical twins sharethe same genetic makeup, it would make sense why their test scores are moresimilar than fraternal twins.             Twins,however, are not the only family dynamic that researchers like to study. Theyalso study whether adopted children are more like their adoptive parents ortheir biological parents.

The adoptive parents control the home environment,but the biological parents control the hereditary genes. This is an importantpiece for researchers, as it can help further the knowledge and informationregarding which has a greater influence on a person; environment or genetics.This study is also used to gather information for the “Nature vs Nurture”debate.

Using these family studies has helped prove that many traits anddisorders, like depression and/or intelligence are most strongly influenced bygenetics and not environment (Davies et al., 2011; Kang et al., 2012; Stein etal., 2012).             Thefindings from these studies have allowed behavioral genetics to estimate theheritability of various traits.

Heritability is the statistic that provides apercentage of variation in a population in regard to genetic factors versusenvironment. There are however, misconceptions regarding genetics. There is alot of information that can be misconstrued, leading to false information ormisunderstandings. It is important to remember the following three cautionswhen reading hereditability estimates; (1) heritability estimates do not applyto individuals, but apply to groups, (2) genes and the environment areinteractive and inseparable and (3) genetic traits are not fixed and can vary(Wiley, 2015).              Height has one of the highest heritabilityestimates, but your own height may vary in regard to your parents and/or your siblingsbecause of the individual combination of genes each person has (with anexception to identical twins). It is impossible to predict a singleindividual’s height from heritability, but you can make an estimate for thegroup as a whole.

It is also important to remember that genes have a stronginfluence on disease and behavior, but genetic studies do not reflect how anenvironment modification may change the outcome. For example, if you inherit apossible genetic predisposition for cancer or diabetes, you may improve yourodds of not acquiring that trait by changing your lifestyle or takingprecautions.             Behavioralgenetics and the study of such, gives scientists and researchers vitalinformation regarding how traits and genes work, how they are passed down fromgeneration to generation and how they affect both individuals and groups alike.

This is also why studying twins and other family dynamics like adoptivefamilies and siblings are so important. It gives researchers so muchinformation when it comes to how genetics, heredity and traits work. Behavioralgenetics give some insight to the ‘Nature vs Nurture’ debate and can be used tounderstand and treat many different health problems in our world today. 

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