What Is Behavioral Genetics?

What Is Behavioral Genetics? Photo Credit: Clipart.com


Why do humans range so widely in their susceptibility to mental illness, in their willingness to take risks, and in their performance in intelligence tests? One answer to this question comes from scientists in the field of behavioral genetics. They say that the variation in behavioral traits across a population is due, in part, to an organism’s genetic make-up. In this lesson, you will learn how scientists study the interaction of genes with environments to produce variation in behavior across a population.


Begin by reading “Margaret, an ambitious mother.” This is a story that serves as introduction to Chapter 1: What Is Behavioral Genetics? of Behavioral Genetics: An introduction to how genes and environments interact through development to shape differences in mood, personality, and intelligence.

As directed by your teacher, take the What Is Behavior? Quiz.

Your teacher will assign you one of these chapters:

After you have gone through your assigned chapter, you should work with your group to complete the relevant section of the Genes, Environments, and Behavior student sheet.

If you find this topic interesting, you might consider checking out one of these sites for additional information:

  • Who Am I?, produced by the National Science Museum (United Kingdom), is a brief, picture-based tour about genes which includes the section “Genes and Human Behaviour.” 
  • What Makes You YOU?, from the American Museum of Natural History, is a quick activity that can help you get a more solid understanding of the relationship between individuals, traits, genes, chromosomes, and DNA. 
  • Tour of the Basics, created by the Genetic Science Learning Center, provides a good overview to DNA, genes, chromosomes, proteins, inheritance, and traits. If you only have time for one unit, go to “What is a Trait?” 
  • How do genes direct the production of proteins?, from the National Library of Medicine, includes a short description and illustration of “the flow of information from DNA to RNA to proteins.”

Knowledge Check

Choose one of these two topics for a brief essay:

  1. Define “genetic determinism” and explain why it is not a scientific concept. Use terms introduced in Chapters 1-3.
  2. Define “developmental pathway” and describe how genes and environments interact to shape it. Use terms introduced in Chapters 1-3.

Alternatively, your teacher may ask you to make a poster illustrating one of these themes:

  1. The relationship of bases, DNA, genes, chromosomes, cells, and nervous system
  2. The relationship of genes, proteins, and behavior
  3. The various environmental influences on a given human being

This esheet is a part of the Genes, Environments, and Behavior 1 lesson.

Did you find this resource helpful?

Esheet Details