Nav: Home

Some personal beliefs and morals may stem from genetics

February 25, 2019

A new baby is often welcomed with speculation about whether they got their eyes and nose from mom or dad, but researchers say it may be possible for children to inherit their parents' moral characteristics, as well.

The researchers found that while parents can help encourage their children to develop into responsible, conscientious adults, there is an underlying genetic factor that influences these traits, as well.

Amanda Ramos, Training Interdisciplinary Educational Scientists fellow at Penn State, said she hopes the study can help start a conversation about how and why these characteristics -- referred to as "virtuous character" -- develop.

"A lot of studies have shown a link between parenting and these virtuous traits, but they haven't looked at the genetic component," Ramos said. "I thought that was a missed opportunity because parents also share their genes with their children, and what we think is parents influencing and teaching their children these characteristics may actually be due, at least in part, to genetics."

Previous research has found associations between virtuous qualities like social responsibility and conscientiousness with well-being and civic engagement. But while school-based interventions have been developed to help promote these traits, they are not always successful. Ramos wanted to dig deeper and explore whether genetics could explain why some people develop these traits while others do not.

The researchers used data from 720 pairs of siblings -- including identical and fraternal twins, full siblings in divorced and non-divorced families, half siblings, and unrelated siblings -- and their parents.

Ramos said including pairs of siblings with a wide variety of relatedness was helpful to discovering both genetic and environmental factors that influence traits. For example, identical twins have identical DNA, while step-siblings do not share any genes but do share a home, or environment.

"If identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins, for example, it's assumed there's a genetic influence," said Ramos. "Including multiple degrees of relatedness can give you more power to disentangle the genetic influences from the shared environment."

The researchers gathered participants' data first during adolescence and then again in young adulthood. They measured parental positivity -- such as responsiveness and giving praise -- as well as parental negativity, like yelling and conflict. They also measured the children's responsibility during adolescence and conscientiousness during young adulthood.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that while positive parenting was associated with their children being more responsible and conscientious, those associations were stronger in siblings that were more closely related.

Ramos said that because of the similarity of the siblings, the results suggest that the traits are partially genetic.

"Essentially, we found that both genetics and parenting have an effect on these characteristics," Ramos said. "The way children act or behave is due, in part, to genetic similarity and parents respond to those child behaviors. Then, those behaviors are having an influence on the children's social responsibility and conscientiousness."

Jenae Neiderhiser, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, said the findings -- recently published in the journal Behavior Genetics -- help better explain how parents shape their children's character.

"Most people assume that parenting shapes the development of virtuous character in children via entirely environmental pathways," Neiderhiser said. "But our results suggest there are also heritable influences. This doesn't mean that if parents are conscientious that their children also will be regardless of how the children are parented. It does mean, however, that children inherit a tendency to behave in a particular way and that this shouldn't be ignored."

Ramos added that while she and the other researchers found a genetic element to the development of virtuous characteristics, that does not mean the traits were completely determined by DNA.

"Your genes are not totally deterministic of who you are," Ramos said. "Genes simply give you a potential. People still make their own choices and have agency in shaping who they become."
-end-
Amanda Griffin, postdoctoral fellow at University of Oregon, and David Reiss, professor of clinical child psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, also worked on this project.

The National Institutes of Mental Health, the Institute of Education Sciences, William T. Grant Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, and Kligman Dissertation Fellowship helped support this research.

Penn State

Related Genetics Articles:

Improve evolution education by teaching genetics first
Evolution is a difficult concept for many students at all levels, however, a study publishing on May 23 in the open access journal PLOS Biology has demonstrated a simple cost-free way to significantly improve students' understanding of evolution at the secondary level: teach genetics before you teach them evolution.
Study unravels the genetics of childhood 'overgrowth'
Researchers have undertaken the world's largest genetic study of childhood overgrowth syndromes -- providing new insights into their causes, and new recommendations for genetic testing.
Could genetics influence what we like to eat?
Gene variants could affect food preferences in healthy people, according to a new study.
Reverse genetics for rotavirus
Osaka University scientists generate a new plasmid-based reverse genetics system for rotaviruses.
The genetics behind being Not Like Daddy
A common strategy to create high-yielding plants is hybrid breeding.
Understanding the genetics of human height
A large-scale international study involving more than 300 researchers, published today in Nature, heralds the discovery of 83 genetic variations controlling human height.
Animal genetics: The bovine heritage of the yak
Though placid enough to be managed by humans, yaks are robust enough to survive at 4,000 meters altitude.
New genetics clues into motor neuron disease
Researchers at the University of Queensland have contributed to the discovery of three new genes which increase the risk of motor neuron disease, opening the door for targeted treatments.
Your best diet might depend on your genetics
If you've ever seen a friend have good results from a diet but then not been able to match those results yourself, you may not be surprised by new findings in mice that show that diet response is highly individualized.
Using precision-genetics in pigs to beat cancer
Because of their similarities to people, using new technology in pigs turn up as a valuable alternative to rodent models of cancer.

Related Genetics Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".