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6 - Transitions and changes: genetic and environmental etiologies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

Robert Plomin
Affiliation:
Pennsylvania State University
John C. DeFries
Affiliation:
University of Colorado, Boulder
David W. Fulker
Affiliation:
University of Colorado, Boulder
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Summary

It must be borne in mind that the divergence of development, when it occurs, need not be ascribed to the effect of different nurtures, but it is quite possible that it may be due to the appearance of qualities inherited at birth, though dormant.

Francis Galton (1875)

In addition to the descriptive and predictive changes discussed in the preceding chapter, developmental change can be seen in terms of etiology – changes in genetic as well as environmental influences. Changes in environmental influences can be explored without behavioral genetics; for example, the effects of prematurity on individual differences in social and mental development tend to diminish during infancy (Kopp, 1983). Behavioral genetics, however, provides a particularly powerful and general approach to the study of developmental changes in etiologies of individual differences.

From a behavioral genetics perspective, three kinds of etiological change can be considered; these mirror the phenotypic changes described in Chapter 5. The most basic phenotypic change that can occur is a change in variance, although changes in the magnitude of phenotypic variance are difficult to interpret because measures are not comparable across ages. The analogous genetic concept – change in heritability – is easier to interpret because it refers to a proportion of phenotypic variance due to genetic differences among individuals rather than to the absolute magnitude of variance.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1988

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