The interplay of genetic influences and social processes in developmental theory: Specific mechanisms are coming into view

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In the coming years we can look forward to research that clarifies specific mechanisms that account for the interplay between genetic and environmental influences on psychological development. Certain misconceptions, arising from research traditions initiated by Francis Galton on the one hand and G. Stanley Hall on the other, may now be set aside in the light of new evidence. Three important findings promise a new synthesis. First, while each of us is born with about 100,000 genes that, under ordinary circumstances, do not change, the expression of these genes on behavior is dynamic. Some genetic influences are expressed early in development, but others are manifest many years later. Second, genetic factors often account not only for some of the individual differences in the measures of adjustments we typically use to monitor development but also for individual differences in environmental experiences that covary with those measures of adjustment. Indeed, genetic factors have been found to account for a surprising amount of covariance between measures of the social environment and of adjustment in young children, adolescents, and adults. Third, the expression of genetic influences are very malleable and responsive to the social environment. These new findings are revealing specific mechanisms for the interplay of genetic and social environmental factors in four domains. First, the social environment may play both a necessary and specific role in the expression of particular genetic influences on a range of behaviors from depression to social responsibility. Second, an understanding of the interplay between the social environment and genetics may lead to a clearer definition of the phenotypic manifestations of particular genetic influences. Third, we will - as a result of these studies - have a clearer fix on the timing of important events and their sequence in development. Fourth, this new genre of work promises to illumine more completely mechanisms by which the social environment influences development independent of genetic influence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-374
Number of pages18
JournalDevelopment and Psychopathology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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