Understanding “What Could Be”: A Call for ‘Experimental Behavioral Genetics’

Behavior Genetics 2 (49):235-243 (2019)
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Behavioral genetic (BG) research has yielded many important discoveries about the origins of human behavior, but offers little insight into how we might improve outcomes. We posit that this gap in our knowledge base stems in part from the epidemiologic nature of BG research questions. Namely, BG studies focus on understanding etiology as it currently exists, rather than etiology in environments that could exist but do not as of yet (e.g., etiology following an intervention). Put another way, they focus exclusively on the etiology of “what is” rather than “what could be”. The current paper discusses various aspects of this field-wide methodological reality, and offers a way to overcome it by demonstrating how behavioral geneticists can incorporate an experimental approach into their work. We outline an ongoing study that embeds a randomized intervention within a twin design, connecting “what is” and “what could be” for the first time. We then lay out a more general framework for a new field—experimental BGs—which has the potential to advance both scientific inquiry and related philosophical discussions.

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Kathryn Plaisance
University of Waterloo


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