Dean's Blog: Genetics vs. Environment

December 11, 2018 - Dean Rachel Croson



How much of who we are and what we accomplish is predetermined at birth, and how much is shaped by our environment? The nature vs. nurture debate has continued for centuries, but science is making inroads into understanding what shapes us as individuals and how we might influence those important shaping forces.

Dr. Alexandra Burt and Dr. Kelly Klump co-direct the Michigan State University Twin Registry to help in answering these questions. The Registry, housed in the Department of Psychology, is a database of over 30,000 twins mostly from within Michigan. The Registry provides researchers with the ability to disentangle the impact of genetic and environmental forces and, most importantly, examine interactions between these factors in the development of behavior and major medical and psychiatric disorders.

Twin studies compare the similarity in development between identical twins (who share all their genes) and fraternal twins (who share, on average, only 50% of their genes). When more similarity is found between identical twins, this provides evidence that genes likely influence the outcome. Understanding how this similarity differs across different environments provides evidence of how genetic factors can be modified by environmental factors. Previous research from this database has examined rates of eating disorders, anti-social behavior, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and heart disease.

The College of Social Science is transforming the human experience by unpacking the causes of human behavior, and improving our ability to predict disease and disability.

Sincerely yours,

Dean Rachel T.A. Croson


For further reading:

MSU Twin Registry