Monday, January 12, 2009

Personal Genome Project: Nature & Nurture

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine (1/11/09) had an interesting cover story by cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, who is a participant in the Personal Genome Project. The genome project will create technology and practices allowing individuals to access and interpret their personal genetic information.

The identification of a person's traits (personal genomics) using DNA is in its infancy. We can identify risks for some diseases, and map some physical attributes such as hair color and skin tone, but not always accurately. We can identify ancestral lineages (- which is very cool!).

What I found most interesting in Dr. Pinker's article is that personality and behavioral traits such as extroversion, intelligence, religiosity, neuroticism, mental illnes can be mapped to our genes to some degree. And giving nurture (as opposed to nature) its due, our differences from each other can be also attributed to culture, shared environments (homes, work and schools), and unshared environments. However, gentic studies are finding that the older we get, the more our behaviors appear to revert to our genetic traits. That is, we move away (perhaps literally) from the cultural and environmental factors as we grow and mature and back to the original DNA expression of ourselves.

Hmm... this will surely impact psychotherapy, spiritual development and a slew of other areas. The nature vs. nurture debate should explode in the near future.

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