Nature or nurture? It’s an age-old debate that sees conversations go round in circles. If truth be told, for most human characteristics, it’s often a combination of the two. A new study, however, suggests that where you live has a massive impact on which effect is most influential.
The research, published in Molecular Psychiatry, studied over 13,000 pairs of twins across the UK. When they analysed 45 childhood characteristics, from IQ and hyperactivity through to height and weight, they found that genetic and environmental contributions to these characteristics varied massively with geography.
Researchers from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry have followed the twins — all of whom were born between 1994 and 1996 — and carried out a whole gamut of tests to assess a wide range of cognitive abilities, behavioural traits, environments and academic achievement. They then managed to crunch through the massive pool of data to calculate if genetic or environmental impacts had more effect, before plotting the results onto maps. Oliver Davis, one of the researchers, explains:
“Take a trait like classroom behaviour problems. From our maps we can tell that in most of the UK around 60% of the difference between people is explained by genes. However, in the South East genes aren’t as important: they explain less than half of the variation. For classroom behaviour, London is an ‘environmental hotspot’.
“The nature-nurture maps help us to spot patterns in the complex data, and to try to work out what’s causing these patterns. For our classroom behaviour example, we realised that one thing that varies more in London is household income. When we compare maps of income inequality to our nature-nurture map for classroom behaviour, we find income inequality may account for some of the pattern.
“Of course, this is just one example. There are any number of environments that vary geographically in the UK, from social environments like health care or education provision to physical environments like altitude, the weather or pollution. Our approach is all about tracking down those environments that you wouldn’t necessarily think of at first.”
What’s arguably most interesting about the work is the fact that it clearly demonstrates that your genes don’t dictate your destiny. A whole host of factors can affect the way your genome expresses itself — even which state you grow up in. [Molecular Psychiatry via EurekAlert — Thanks Seil!]