Twin and Adoption Studies

To determine whether variation in some dimension of behavior is heritable (whether behavioral differences are, in some part, due to genetic differences between people), human researchers use family, twin, and adoption designs. The first step in determining whether a behavior is influenced by genes is to establish that it aggregates or "runs" in families. Similarities in behavioral characteristics among family members suggest that genes influence the trait, but they cannot conclusively demonstrate genetic influence, because family members share their experiences (i.e., their environments) as well as their genes.

Twin and adoption studies allow one to tease apart the effects of genes and environments. Twin studies compare the patterns of behavioral characteristics between identical, or monozygotic (MZ), and fraternal, or dizygotic (DZ), twins. MZ twins share 100 percent of their genetic information, whereas DZ twins share, on average, one-half, just like non-twin siblings. Thus, the presence of greater behavioral similarities between MZ twins than DZ twins suggests that genetic factors contribute to those behaviors.

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Adoption studies compare whether an adopted child is more similar behaviorally to the child's adoptive parents (with whom environments, but not genes, are shared) or to the child's biological parents (with whom genes, but not environments, are shared). Twin and adoption techniques have been used to demonstrate that nearly all behavior is under some degree of genetic influence, and, in the context of the Human Genome Project, behavior genetics has attracted great interest and some controversy.

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