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Behavior Genetics: Predicting Individual Differences

Behavior geneticists explore our individual differences and how they are affected by
heredity and environment. Using methods such as twin, adoption, and temperament
studies, they identify the heritability of various traits and disorders.

Studies of the inheritance of temperament, and of twins and adopted children,

provide scientific support for the idea that nature and nurture influence one’s
developing personality. Genes and environment—biological and social factors—
direct our life courses as their effects intertwine.

Molecular geneticists are on a fast-moving frontier in their work to identify the

specific genes that influence behaviors.

Evolutionary Psychology: Understanding Human Nature

Genes (DNA segments that form the chromosomes) are the biochemical units of
heredity. They provide the blueprint for protein molecules, the building blocks of our
physical and behavioral development.

Evolutionary psychologists study how natural selection has shaped our universal
behavior tendencies. They reason that if organisms vary, if only some mature to
produce surviving offspring, and if certain inherited behavior tendencies assist that
survival, then nature must select those tendencies. They believe this helps explain
gender differences in sexuality. Critics maintain that evolutionary psychologists
make too many hindsight explanations.

Parents and Peers

Genetic influences are pervasive, but so are prenatal environments, early

experiences and peer influences. Sculpted by experience, neural interconnections
multiply rapidly after birth. Both parents and peers influence development. Parents
model education, discipline, and responsibility to name a few while peers influence
learning to cooperate with others, and finding appropriate ways to interact with
people of a similar age.

Cultural Influences

Culture consists of behaviors, ideas, attitudes, values, and traditions, which are
shared by a group and passed from generation to generation. Most animals exhibit
culture at a rudimentary level but humans are able to develop more quickly due to
our ability to communicate verbally, our preservation of innovation, and our division
of labor. Human variations across cultures and over time show how differing norms,
or expectations, guide behavior. Cultures differ in their norms for personal space,
expressiveness, and pace of life. Cultures change over time as well. However, this
rapid change is not attributed to changes in the gene pool, which occur more
slowly, but to culture itself.
A culture can vary depending on how its people view themselves—as individuals
and as part of a group. There are cultures that value individualism over collectivism
and vice versa. Whether the culture focuses more on the “I” or the “We” often
determines the values of the culture. These variations in cultural values influence
child-rearing practices in particular. One cultural group may feel that their method
of rearing children is better than another’s when, in fact, every culture can raise
children successfully. Despite cultural differences, we are all humans and undergo
the same cycle of life.

Gender Development

Males and females are similar in many ways. People of each gender may, for
example, share the same level of intelligence. However, there are distinct gender
differences with regard to social behavior. Research studies show gender
differences in aggression, social power, and social connectedness. These similarities
and differences are created by both nature and nurture. Although males and
females share similarly adaptive bodily procedures, differing sex chromosomes and
differing concentrations of sex hormones lead to significant physiological sex
differences. Yet gender differences vary widely depending upon cultural
socialization through social learning and gender schemas.

Myers, Myers Psychology Eighth Edition

© 2006 Worth Publishers