Blueprint – how DNA dictates who we are

Steven Mithen in The Guardian:

We will soon be able to identify the likelihood that a newborn baby – perhaps your baby – will be susceptible to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia throughout his or her life. We will know the probability that our newborns will have difficulty learning to read, become obese and be prone to Alzheimer’s disease in their later years. Good news? Robert Plomin thinks so. In Blueprint, he argues such insights should make us more tolerant of those who might be overweight or prone to depression; they will enable us to support our children better and plan for our own life’s course. He is equally pleased with the discovery that much of what we think of as nurture – the caring, supporting environments we build for our children – has, on average, no impact on our loved ones’ development. Plomin explains that nurture in the home is as irrelevant as the school environment for influencing whether we become kind or gritty, happy or sad, wealthy or poor, and that this leads to greater equality of opportunity than would have otherwise been the case. The only thing that matters for our personalities and much else is the DNA that we inherit and those chance events of our lives beyond anyone’s control.

This is good news certainly if it follows that knowledge is always better than ignorance and self-delusion. If parents are wasting their time reading bedtime stories when their children really don’t want to listen, or wasting their money paying for expensive private schools, then that is all good to know. I am not in a position to question the science, and Plomin has been studying the genetics of personality for 45 years. He is a pioneer in studying identical twins (with their identical DNA) growing up in different families and in comparing adopted and birth children within the same family (having no overlap in their DNA other than the 99% that we all share). By such studies, typically involving thousands of participants and extending over several decades, Plomin and his colleagues have examined the relative contributions of genes and environment, otherwise known as nature and nurture, to the formation of personalities. Genes win out every time.

More here.