Gene Environment Correlation

Perhaps because we often tend to reify the dualism of heredity and environment, as in nature versus nurture, our first impulse is to see environments as acting on people, somewhat as a hammer acts on a nail. Yet, scant reflection recalls that people commonly have a hand in their own experiences. If personal characteristics, such as dispositional attributes, lead individuals to create or select certain environmental experiences, and if these characteristics are genetically influenced, environmental "exposures" may also be genetically influenced. This circumstance is referred to as gene-environment correlation and, when involving the selection of environmental experiences based on heritable predispositions, as active gene-environment correlation (Plomin et al, 2008). For instance, a heritable propensity for impulsive risk taking might engender preferences for activities that increase the likelihood of experiencing such adverse events as financial loss (from gambling) or traumatic injury (reckless driving). A second pathway, termed reactive (or evocative) gene-environment correlation, occurs when individuals' heritable characteristics (e.g., an antagonistic temperament) create adverse environments (e.g., interpersonal problems) by leading others to respond in ways they do not respond to persons lacking these characteristics. And finally, a third form of geneenvironment correlation is of particular interest in developmental contexts because it is specific to relationships among genetically related individuals. Consider, for example, that exposure to punitive parenting might predict later behavioral problems in children, not as a direct consequence of the parenting practice, but via shared genetic variation that is expressed in the parent as a proclivity to discipline harshly and in the child as a predisposition to oppositional or other problematic behavior. This is referred to as passive gene-environment correlation. Thus, there are several means by which heritable qualities of individuals might shape the environments they experience.

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