Nurturing the genius of genes: The new frontier of education, therapy, and understanding of the brain [Book Review]
Brain and Mind 3 (1):101-132 (2002)
Genes dance. They dance with culture. Theydance with environment. Genes act on the world through the brain, mind and behavior. Historically, psychologists, therapists,educators and most lay people have understoodgenes in the context of Gregor Mendel'sexperiments, which were only partiallyexplained to us. While many studies show thatbrain structures and behaviors have quiterobust influences from inheritance, mostbehavior is not influenced in the classic waywe were taught in our introduction to genetics– which has been revolutionized by molecularstudies and understandings that most of theimportant genes of everyday life arequantitative, or polygenic.Popular culture and naïve theory has a verysimplistic view of genes. They are bad,impolite and vaguely anti-democratic if notsinister. A very simple truth exists, however.Were it not for the genes of our grandparents,no one would be reading this article.This article introduces the reader to an ideathat emerges from evolutionary psychology andbehavior genetics, which may turn our thinkinginside out. For the most part, genes are giftsof nature to solve problems, and to hedge a beton the future. Most true genetic diseases,regulated by the classic processes that Mendelobserved, are extremely rare – typically belowone in several hundred. Most of the behaviorsthat cause us grief or joy in our homes,schools and communities and with some form ofgenetic contribution happen far more often –3%, 5%, 10% or more of the time in thepopulation. If such behaviors were ``defects''harming our reproductive success, Mother Naturewould have quickly made short work of thosegenes in a handful of generations. The factthat many of the genes related to thesebehaviors and subtle changes in the brain seemto have been recent changes (pejorativelycalled by some ``mutations'') in the past fewthousand years implies that these changes are insome sense Nature's Gifts.Gifts are to be treasured, saved and perhapspassed on. Sometimes a gift may be burdensome. This paper is about reframing and explainingadvances in science in the past 10 years or so,parallel to the brain imaging studies. Themolecular studies, explored in the context ofevolutionary psychology and behavioral geneticsprovide a new model for human development,enhancing our understanding of more traditionalviews of human phylogeny and ontogeny. Thesame molecular studies, when framed in thecontext of twin, adoption and longitudinalstudies, provide new insights for parenting,schools, community and therapy.
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