Science in Christian Perspective



Comment On Behavior Genetics

From: JASA 15 (June 1963): 51.

The work in this emerging field includes that of many scientists who are primarily geneticists as well as a number of psychologists. What seems to be emerging is a breed of scientists who are competent in both genetics and behavioral analysis-a situation which has been rare in the past and has resulted in many statements in genetics textbooks which are behaviorally naive, and a comparable situation in the psychological literature with relation to the mechanisms of heredity. The effect of the increased interest and effort in behavior genetics has not seriously altered our knowledge of the relation of heredity and complex human behavior, but it has resulted in a more cautious attitude about the conclusions which can be drawn from available data.

The main impact has been in the increased interest and activity in experimental behavior genetics . . . The important contribution of this emerging discipline, largely within academic psychology departments but also in some biology departments, still lies in the future. What is new then is not a new set of basic questions, nor even startling new methods for answering questions, but rather a greater awareness of the inadequacies of past studies and a concerted attempt to study the relationship between heredity and behavior in as rigorous and sophisticated manner as possible.

Behavior genetics includes studies of animal behavior ranging from simple sensory processes and reflexes to complex perceptual processes and problem-solving behavior. Some recent studies have added a new dimension to the study of heredity-behavior interaction by demonstrating the effect of environment on behavior previously assumed to be immune to specific experiential events. Thus experiences very early in life or even prenatal events have been demonstrated to have an effect on behaviors which were assumed to be primarily determined by inherited mechanisms. Sensory discrimination behavior, including sensory capacity, temperamental variability as exhibited in response to stress, and instinctual maternal behavior, has been reported to be altered as a consequence of early experience, and in some cases behavioral changes have been reported in offspring of organisms subjected to specific experiences. This is not to suggest that interest and activity is not also found in the investigation of the genetics of gross motor activity, emotionality, social behavior, intelligence, etc. Most of these studies are carried out with animals for the obvious experimental reasons, but usually on a background of an interest in understanding the genetics of complex human behavior . . . Jonathan G. Wegener, Dept. of Psychology, Yale University. (Comments prepared for discussion of Dr. Mixter's convention paper.)