Sunday, May 4, 2014

Are beliefs inherited?

This article talks about whether attitudes like whether America’s role in Iraq or the importance of one’s physical appearance are “largely the product of environmental forces, a combination of upbringing and culture” or something else.  The article suggests that something else is the answer, that attitudes are “partly, though indirectly, heritable, but that attitudes with high heritability influence people's actions more strongly than those with weaker genetic bases.”  Twin studies in looking at whether environmental factors such as "nonshared environment," or a person's individual experiences outside the family are useful.  Twin studies are consistently stronger in predicting attitudes than genetic ones, at least among adults.  The gathered data of “the team examined data on 29,691 subjects--including 14,761 adult twins and their parents, spouses, siblings and adult children--and concluded that the route to transmitting attitudes within families is complex, probably reflecting a mixture of assortative mating influences and direct parental transmission. The team also found that family environment played a greater role in attitude formation than in personality variables, strengthening the notion that personality has a stronger genetic component than attitudes.”  These studies are interesting as beliefs and feelings are hard to capture and may change over time. One study interviewed 654 adopted and nonadopted young people about their levels of conservatism and religious attitudes every year for four years, starting when they were 12.  The study found that, “examining the differences between adopted and nonadopted youngsters in how similar their attitudes were to those of their parents, the team found a significant, though relatively small, genetic influence for conservatism in youngsters as early as the first year of the study, and almost no genetic link for religious attitudes.”


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