Author: Robert Chapman

The genetic and environmental origins of spatial, mathematics and general anxiety

Good spatial skills are very important for our every-day life, from finding our way around the city to assembling flat-packed furniture. Furthermore, good spatial skills have been linked to success in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) professions. People differ greatly in their spatial skills and in the ease with which they approach spatial tasks. Part of these differences in spatial skills is accounted for by differences in intelligence, and part linked to other factors. One of such factors is spatial anxiety, the anxiety people experience when dealing with tasks that include a spatial component, such as, for example, using a map to navigate the city. Tasks that have a spatial component are multiple and include large-scale activities, such as navigation and orienting, and smaller-scale spatial activities such as the abilities to visualise and mentally rotate objects –fundamental skills used every day by many professionals, form designers and engineers to surgeons. The few investigations that have examined spatial anxiety have found that it is negatively associated with performance in spatial tasks, and it has been proposed that it may impair performance in spatial skills; however, studies into spatial anxiety are few and several aspects of this important construct remain unexplored. In this study, we identified three fundamental questions regarding spatial anxiety that remain unanswered: firstly, is spatial anxiety a unitary construct or do some people experience anxiety only...

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Genes and environments before and after birth

The study of the nature and mechanisms of child psychopathology is becoming increasingly important. It has been established that genes play an important role in the development of children’s psychopathology. At the same time research has also been focused on establishing the associations between genes and disorders, such as ADHD, behavioral problems and depression. Behavioral genetics is constantly searching for new approaches to the study of human development and today we are going to introduce you to a novel methodology. This approach includes the strengths of twin and adoption designs, which allow us to disentangle genetic and environmental influences, and allows us to overcomes their limitations, for instance, the inability of both to distinguish between the factors of prenatal environment and genetics risks. This research design has been previously described as an adoption at conception design With this approach, one can study the development of children conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). IVF studies investigate  families that differ in the method of conception: families where both parents are genetic relatives to the child they are raising (homologous IVF or surrogacy), where none of the parents is a genetic relative to the child (donation of the embryo) or families where only one parent is a genetic relative to the child (only mother – sperm donation, only father – the egg donation). The study also...

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10 Robust Things We Know About Genes, Environments and Behaviour

The Psychological sciences (and many other disciplines as well) are suffering a so called “replication” crisis. The problem is that many reported scientific findings do not replicate when other research groups try to redo the study. For example, an attempt to test psychological studies for replication showed that out of 100 studies only 36% showed significant replication (Open Science Collaboration, 2015). We can’t trust the findings which do not replicate, because the final say on whether findings are robust depends on reproducing the previous results. The percent of replication varies inside the psychological science, e.g. the replication for behavioural genetics is much higher than for neuroscience. In his paper, Professor Plomin presents 10 findings from behavioural genetics, which have showen consistency in replication and thus can be considered trustworthy. These findings are crucial and have a huge impact on psychological science. The idea of Heritability comes up a lot in these studies and so we need to establish a good understanding of this term. Heritability refers to individual differences across a particular population at a particular time with its particular mix of genetic and environmental effects. It does not relate to the genetic make-up of an individual (that’s heredity), but rather to the variation seen across a population in the trait of interest. So if a trait is 80% heritable, it means that 80% of the trait differences in...

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Your genes can help predict how well you’ll do in school – here’s how we cracked it

Understanding why some children naturally excel at school while others struggle – and working out what to do about it – is a major goal in many areas of research. Previous studies have shown that genetics plays a big role in these differences but, of course, environment matters too. We know from twin studies, which compare genetic similarity between twins to estimate the effects of genetic and environmental effects, that 60% of the individual differences in educational achievement is down to genetics, and 40% is explained by the environment. However, these studies do not tell us much about individuals’ genetic risk and resilience. In our study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, we showed that almost 10% of differences in exam results at age 16 can be explained using individuals’ DNA, using a new method called polygenic scoring. This marks a tipping point in the science of prediction, as this is the strongest prediction from DNA alone of any behavioural trait so far. In comparison, a previous education polygenic score only explained 3% of the differences in educational achievement, and only 2% of the difference in intelligence. Genetic scoring We used participants from a UK representative sample called the the Twins Early Development Study.aspx). This includes almost 6,000 unrelated individuals (it includes just one member of a twin pair) who have had DNA information analysed. To create genetic scores, we inspected...

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“I Blame the Parents”, but should we…

Approximately 20% of people in the developed world experience victimization by perpetrators of violent and nonviolent illegal behaviour each year (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002). The best well-designed and amply funded interventions reduce antisocial behaviour by only a modest rate, which indicates that there is much about antisocial behaviour we still do not understand. This issue has recently been noted by Terrie E. Moffit. In his paper he focuses on antisocial behaviors, their development and cause. Traditional studies of antisocial behaviour are often only able to demonstrate correlations between factors. E.g. that antisocial behaviour correlates highly with poorer performance at school. However, it is important to try and understand cause and effect when studying antisocial behaviour. Whilst it may seem logical that a stressful home environment can lead to antisocial behaviour in children, it may actually be that the opposite is true and a child’s behaviour leads to or adds to a stressful home environment. In reality, it is most likely that each factor adds to the other, with many other factors involved. Studies that look at these factors overtime (longitudinal studies) can help disentangle cause and effect but can be costly and time consuming. Using family studies, most often the Twin Method, behavioural geneticists can separate genetic from environmental influences and can help shed light on the causes of antisocial behaviour. To illustrate how behavioural genetic designs...

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Working Group on Legal, Ethical and Societal Implications of Genetics (LESIG)

LESIG Working Group was established by TAGC and InLab, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the Institute for Law and Ethics at ICRHD (International Centre for Research in Human Development).

LESIG operates in the UK and Russia.

The 1st Session of the Working Group in Russia was hosted by the ICRHD, Tomsk State University, on 26 December 2017.

The first session of the Working Group in the UK is being hosted by InLab, Goldsmiths, University of London in February 2018.

Read more on our Law and Ethics page.