In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Behavioral Genetics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • Developmental Behavioral Genetics
  • Genetics and Parenting
  • Genetics and Sexuality
  • Behavioral Genetics and Evolution
  • The Human Genome Project and Other Genome Projects
  • Molecular Genetics and the Future

Psychology Behavioral Genetics
Lisabeth DiLalla
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0010


Behavioral genetics is the study of genetic and environmental influences on behaviors. By examining genetic influence, more information can be gleaned about how the environment operates to affect behavior. Almost all behaviors studied by psychologists are affected by our genetic makeup, and so the question is not whether genes are important, but how do they affect these behaviors? The old nature–nurture debate has been laid to rest by students of this discipline. We know, from thousands of studies using many different methodologies, that both genes and environment are important to understand if we hope to untangle the mysteries of virtually any behavior. Among the interesting questions to be asked now: How do genes and environments work together to influence behaviors, and what specific genes might be responsible for various types of behaviors and what is their mechanism of action? The field of behavioral genetics is moving forward and changing so rapidly that many of the articles included here are from relatively recent work. Some essential mainstays are included that all students of behavioral genetics should read and that both help to explain the history of this field and also represent seminal papers that still hold true. However, a large number of the articles included in this article are representative of many comparable articles. This selection is intended to get the reader started on a foray into the area. It should be noted that most research articles in this field are quantitatively quite complicated. A reading knowledge of path analysis, structural equation modeling, and matrix algebra would be beneficial. However, even readers without this knowledge can glean sufficient information from these articles by skimming the results sections and concentrating instead on the literature reviews and discussion summaries.

General Overviews

There are several texts that provide an interesting overview of the field of behavioral genetics at large. Those listed here, including Rutter 2006 and Kim 2009, are intended to be fairly general and cover a broad array of behaviors. In addition, Segal, et al. 1997 and DiLalla 2004 are edited texts resulting from festschrifts that present chapters broadly reviewing the behavioral genetics realm with a focus on a particular person’s work (Daniel G. Freedman in the case of Segal, et al. and Irving I. Gottesman in the case of DiLalla). Bouchard 2004 and Malouff, et al. 2008 are journal articles that provide general overviews of research in the field of behavioral genetics. There also are two books listed below by Nancy Segal (Segal 1999 and Segal 2005) that provide information about twins specifically. These are included because they are intended for a general audience and they provide an excellent background into research on twins.

  • Bouchard, Thomas J., Jr. 2004. Genetic influence on human psychological traits: A survey. Current Directions in Psychological Science 13.4: 148–151.

    Points out the extant literature demonstrating genetic effects on virtually all behavioral traits that have been studied. This article takes the next step by questioning how specific genes interact with the environment to affect behavior. Bouchard posits that the pervasiveness of heritability across traits may generalize to all species, not just humans. Available online by subscription.

  • DiLalla, Lisabeth Fisher, ed. 2004. Behavior genetics principles: Perspectives in development, personality, and psychopathology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Resulted from a festschrift for Professor Irving I. Gottesman, a pioneer in behavioral genetics research. This book presents research spawned by Gottesman’s work and ideas, with a specific focus on development, personality, and psychopathology. Geared to researchers and students in the field.

  • Kim, Yong-Kyu. 2009. Handbook of behavior genetics. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-76727-7

    Intended for students of genetics, psychology, and psychiatry. Chapters describe research in various areas of behavior including psychopathology, intelligence, and personality. Behavioral genetic relevance is discussed, as are cutting-edge methodologies and the directions these fields will take in the future.

  • Malouff, John M., Sally E. Rooke, and Nicola S. Schutte, 2008. The heritability of human behavior: Results of aggregating meta-analyses. Current Psychology 27.3: 153–161.

    A meta-analysis of the heritability of eight different behavioral characteristics across hundreds of twin and adoption studies. This review suggests that human behavior in general is approximately 41 percent heritable. The authors also identify possible moderators of genetic influence, which will be important for future studies to consider. Available online by subscription.

  • Rutter, Michael. 2006. Genes and behavior: Nature-nurture interplay explained. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    This extremely well-reviewed book provides a readable overview of behavioral genetics and related research that is accessible to all audiences.

  • Segal, Nancy L. 1999. Entwined lives: Twins and what they tell us about human behavior. New York: Dutton.

    An exceedingly readable book about being a twin and about twin research. A “must-read” that provides information about twinning from the firsthand perspective of a researcher in the field who is herself a twin.

  • Segal, Nancy L. 2005. Indivisible by two: Lives of extraordinary twins. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Another arresting book by Nancy Segal, this time using several sets of twins, triplets, and quadruplets to demonstrate how both genes and environment play critical roles in behavioral development.

  • Segal, Nancy L., Glenn E. Weisfeld, and Carol Cronin Weisfeld, eds. 1997. Uniting psychology and biology: Integrating perspectives on human development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    This book celebrates the work of Daniel G. Freedman, whose research has focused on an interactionist perspective of human behavior. Research covers genetics, biology, cross-cultural work, and evolution, including an interesting section on Freedman’s use of film to study and teach behavior.

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