Understanding Genetics

All traits and personality characteristics, from height to fear of heights, are driven by a complex interplay of genes and environmental feedback. We now know that the lion's share of human genes are expressed in the brain and that almost all normal and disordered behaviors are polygenic, meaning that they are influenced (not to say caused) by multiple genes. Scientists are therefore tasked with a massive but increasingly plausible mission: mapping the pathway from genes and mediating forces to the person you see in the mirror (known in biological parlance as the "phenotype").

Recent Posts on Genetics

Everything New Under the Sun

By Robert J King Ph.D. on October 09, 2015 Hive Mind
Time, identity, and immortality

Evolution Tells Us to "Eat Up"

It seems cruel to think about, but are our bodies aiding us in developing an eating disorder? Unfortunately, the answer for some women, is yes.

Anxiety Can Speed Aging

By William R. Klemm Ph.D. on September 27, 2015 Memory Medic
No one gets to re-live the past, but everyone can influence their own future.

The Life Expectancy of 165 Breeds of Dogs

We all want to know how long our dogs will live. Here is the first large-scale data collection showing the expected lifespan of almost all of the popular dog registered breeds. The data is given on a breed by breed basis.

What Behaviors Do We Inherit via Genes?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on September 24, 2015 The Human Beast
A pervasive assumption in evolutionary psychology is that how we act is affected by the genes we carry. Is there good concrete evidence of this? Are our outcomes predetermined by our biology? The most intriguing findings on this issue come from twin studies.

Macho Macho Men

Women's preferences for masculine or feminine faces vary considerably. A new study puts evolutionary explanations of these preferences to the test.

Worldwide Alzheimer's Day: Full Circle on the Irish Sea

By Greg O'Brien on September 21, 2015 On Pluto
“What scares me about this disease, is the loss of memory and the inability to carry a conversation. The brain just isn’t processing; it’s stalled. It’s embarrassing. So I often avoid conversation. I retreat into myself, and at times deal with rage. People who know me say, ‘He’s changed a lot.’”

Are Humans Adapted to Modern Life?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on September 17, 2015 The Human Beast
Did gene-based evolution stop after the Agricultural Revolution? Is the Digital Age inhabited by Stone Age people as many evolutionary psychologists claim? I suggest that evolutionary processes - genetic and non-genetic - continue to this day.

Why There Is No Gene for Language

By David Ludden Ph.D. on September 17, 2015 Talking Apes
All human behavior is influenced by genetics. But claiming there’s a specific gene for language or any other complex psychological phenomenon reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the laws of behavioral genetics.

Biotech Imagination

By Jessica Cussins on September 16, 2015 Genetic Crossroads
Eight insiders provide predictions about the next ten years in genetics and genomics, and not one wavers: “All are optimistic and predict enormous positive impact.” Should the rest of us be so optimistic?

Psychological Disorders in Animals: A Review of What We Know

By Marc Bekoff Ph.D. on September 09, 2015 Animal Emotions
An essay titled "Many animals can become mentally ill" published in BBC Earth summarizes what we know about mental illness in animals. It concludes, "But far from being something limited to pampered modern humans, mental illness can strike many kinds of animals and seems to have been around for hundreds of millions of years." I highly recommend this fascinating essay.

Hormones Play Leading Role in Eating Disorder Risk

Every month, women face a recurring cycle that can throw our bodies out of whack and make some of us suffer in many ways. Not only can the ovarian hormones that drive the menstrual cycle makes us emotional, but they may be flipping switches on the genes that make some women more vulnerable to eating disorder symptoms.

Cheating on Ashley Madison

By Ryan Anderson on September 07, 2015 The Mating Game
Why do people cheat on their partners?

Is Depression Hereditary?

Depression is one of the most common and serious illnesses in the world, but sadly also the most mysterious. However, we can garner important information by studying depression in families.

Can Genetics Help Choose ADHD Meds?

Anticipating Better ADHD Med Outcomes with Genetics: How Does It Work?

Why the Experts Are Wrong About the Genetics of Happiness

By Todd B Kashdan Ph.D. on August 19, 2015 Curious?
Every month, there is a major news article about the gene for god, divorce, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. There are popular books touting a so-called fact that only 40% of happiness is due to genetics. But what does this mean? What is wrong about these statements? Read on for the answers in 500 words.

Could You Be at Risk of Instant Addiction?

Is it possible for someone to become instantly addicted to a drug? Most people might say no. Eventually, once individuals have used the drug enough, their brain begins to lose the ability to function without it. What if they try the drug once and know immediately they are hooked, and that the urge to use will likely never leave?

The Rwandan Genocide

What were you doing on the afternoon of April 7, 1994? You probably have no idea – unless you were getting married, lost a loved one or experiencing another major life event. If you were in Rwanda, you may have been watching your mother, father, brother or sister being slaughtered and expecting to be next.

Probiotics May Help Alleviate Autism Symptoms

Experiments with mice show that optimal gut bacterial balance can reduce autism-like symptoms.

7 Ways Childhood Adversity Changes Your Brain

If you’ve ever wondered why you’ve been struggling a little too hard for a little too long with chronic emotional and physical health conditions that just won’t abate, feeling as if you’ve been swimming against some invisible current that never ceases, a new field of scientific research may offer you hope, answers, and healing insights.

Still Alice? Still Alzheimer’s

By Joe Pierre M.D. on July 31, 2015 Psych Unseen
Is there anything nice to say about Alzheimer's disease?

Brain Organoids Show Predicted Epigenetic Effects in Autism

New evidence from cultured brain cells of autistics shows that over-expression of a brain growth gene is critical, just as predicted by the imprinted brain theory.

Stars, Bars, and Embryos

The ideas of "choice" and "intent" have arisen in debates about both the confederate flag and prenatal genetic testing. But are these concepts insufficiently nuanced for these tough topics?

Judging the Baby Crop

The first post in a new series on forgotten stories of the American eugenics movement examines how early-1900s baby health contests increased popular support for eugenics.

Is Family Equality a Right to Surrogacy?

With marriage equality the law of the land, the dignity of LGBTQ families calls for an ongoing conversation about the regulation of the ART and surrogacy industries.

Stories of Seclusion: Obsessed with Margaret Sanger

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on July 22, 2015 How To Do Life
A woman attempts to reconcile how Planned Parenthood's founder could be a leading eugenicist.

Why Science Does Not Need Female or Male Mice

An editorial called “Why Science Needs Female Mice” by the New York Times Editorial Review Board relies on a new study that concludes that research performed only on male mice are inadequate to understand human disease. Yet, numerous prominent researchers have concluded that studies on mice and other animals of either sex are inadequate to understand human disease.

Reviewing the Evidence for Mental Illness Being Epigenetic

The basic claim of the imprinted brain theory that gene expression is critical in neuro-development is vindicated by a new review of the data.

Doctors and Twins’ DNA Sometimes Disagree; Switched at Birth

By Nancy L Segal Ph.D. on July 16, 2015 Twofold
Twin type matters--to twine reared together, reared apart or switched at birth. A case of separated sisters will be described in a forthcoming issue PT an din an upcoming TV series.

The Double-Edged Sword of Self-Control

For some people, self-control may act as a “double-edged sword" that leads to external success but speeds up the aging process at an epigenetic level.