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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Societies
  • 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, Matthew Jamnik, Riley Marshall, Emily Pali
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • 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 both genes and the environment operate 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. 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? 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 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 and structural equation modeling 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 and some recent books that focus on topics relevant for specific subgroups. Kim 2009 is intended to be fairly general and cover a broad array of behaviors. Plomin 2018, written for a lay audience, is accessible and presents important food for thought about the future of DNA in our everyday lives. DiLalla 2004 and McCartney and Weinberg 2009 are edited texts resulting from Festschrifts that present chapters broadly reviewing the behavioral genetics realm with a focus on work by Irving I. Gottesman (in DiLalla) and Sandra Wood Scarr (in McCartney and Weinberg), both of whom were seminal behaviors genetics researchers. Dick 2021 summarizes behavior genetics research as it relates specifically to parenting in a book written for a lay audience, and Harden 2021 provides a general discussion of how genetics research can benefit society in terms of justice and equality. Two books by Nancy Segal (Segal 2005 and Segal 2017) provide information about twins specifically. Although not recent, these are included because they provide an excellent background into research on twins.

  • Dick, Danielle M. 2021. The child code. New York: Avery.

    This book, written for parents, discusses parenting from the perspective of each child’s unique genetic make-up, or “code.” It clarifies the importance of each individual child’s contribution to the parent-child relationship and suggests ways to parent accordingly.

  • 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.

  • Harden, Kathryn Paige. 2021. The genetic lottery: Why DNA matters for social equality. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv1htpf72

    This book should be read with caution, but importantly attempts to clarify to introductory readers that genetic make-up accounts for socioeconomic inequality while simultaneously trying to discredit eugenics as a pseudoscience. Harden states that awareness of human genetic variability across individuals actually should lead to a more fair, equitable society.

  • 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.

  • McCartney, Kathleen, and Richard A. Weinberg. 2009. Experience and development: A Festschrift in honor of Sandra Wood Scarr. New York: Psychology Press.

    Resulted from a Festschrift for Dr. Sandra Wood Scarr, an eminent developmental behavior geneticist. Chapters written by her students and colleagues cover topics based on Scarr’s research, such as heritability of cognitive ability in impoverished children, sibling relationships, and adoption. Intended for researchers of psychology, behavior genetics, and childcare.

  • Plomin, Robert. 2018. Blueprint: How DNA makes us who we are. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

    Written for a lay audience, Plomin uses accessible terminology to explain complicated concepts and to tease apart the roles of genes and environment as they affect behaviors. Mostly based on evidence from his own research and large, genome-wide research projects. Bottom line: children’s development is primarily a function of their genetic make-up.

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

    An arresting book by Nancy Segal. She describes several sets of twins, triplets, and quadruplets to demonstrate how both genes and environment play critical roles in behavioral development.

  • Segal, Nancy L. 2017. Twin mythconceptions: False beliefs, fables, and facts about twins. London: Academic Press.

    In this fun book, intended for professionals, parents, and others interested in twins, Segal identifies over seventy common misconceptions about twins and twinning. She explains each one using known scientific findings, with appendixes explaining some topics in more detail.

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