What is it about?

This study found that a genetic signature previously implicated in educational attainment was also associated with the way that parents interact with their children. Specifically, parents with higher "polygenic scores" for educational attainment provided more warm, sensitive, and stimulating caregiving to their 3-year old children, both in personal interactions and through home environments. The magnitude of this effect was small; it is not possible to accurately predict how someone will parent their children, based on their genetic score. Parents with higher polygenic scores displayed a constellation of characteristics known to be related to parenting, such as high self-control and cognitive skills, already from a young age, before they had children. These early-emerging personal characteristics partly explained why individuals with higher polygenic scores provided more warm, sensitive, stimulating parenting once they had children.

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Why is it important?

This study is important because it shows that genetics and environments are more intertwined than people often think. This finding has three implications. First, it means that we need to be careful when interpreting effects of parenting on children's education. What might look like an effect of parental behavior on children's education might partly reflect genetics that influence parental behavior in the parent, and that are also passed on from parent to child and influence children's education in the child. Second, we also need to be careful when interpreting recent discoveries of genetics for educational attainment. These discoveries might partly reflect the environments that people grow up in, such as the parenting they receive. Third, it means that the way that genes influence behavior sometimes goes via social environments that a person creates or experiences; this phenomenon has been referred to as "nature via nurture". It suggests that social interventions that modify these environments (such as parent skills trainings) could intervene in the paths from genes to behavior.


I hope this paper shows that it is wrong to think of genes and environments as mutually exclusive (as expressed in the old adage of 'nature versus nurture') and that there is in fact lots to gain from conducting interdisciplinary work that combines measures of genetics and social environments.

Jasmin Wertz
Duke University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Genetics of nurture: A test of the hypothesis that parents’ genetics predict their observed caregiving., Developmental Psychology, March 2019, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/dev0000709.
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