Post-Genomic Genetics: Methods and Human Responses to the Gene Environment Interplay of Human Agency

Human cognitive ability has risen by standard deviations over the last century – The “Flynn Effect". No theory of this effect sets a limit on what can be achieved: We might, then, raise ability and agentic traits such as generativity and cooperation to still higher levels. In this context, we wish to study how environment, genes, and mental states themselves cause these increases in capability - What Bronfenbrenner called a “BioSocial” model of development. At the same time, philosophically, terms such as "genetic influence" are vague to the point of concealing questions we need answered. "Genes for" traits like education are discussed as if the genes themselves are at school. Researchers in education and sociology interact little with, but must consider complex data from geneticists. Finally, for many agency constructs, no genetically-informative empirical data have been reported. As a result, few models incorporate both genes and agency: the area is ripe for conceptual innovation.

This project we will critically examine concepts of agency, capability, and actualization in the context of a philosophy of education. We will host meetings asking “what could genetics tell me” with experts in human-capital. We will collect new data on agentic traits in offspring and parents, capitalizing on twin cohorts spanning infancy to retirement. The project will advance knowledge and understanding of how genes, environment and human choices to assume more or less agency over our lives impact realized human potential, or alter the nature of potential itself. We will produce papers and publicly available videoed lectures and discussion in philosophy of education, develop new talent, and share new work in genetics in both scholarly outlets and broader public venues.

Project team: 
  • Principal Investigator: Prof Timothy C. Bates, (Psychology, University of Edinburgh)
  • Co-Investigators: Prof Duncan Pritchard, (Philosophy/Eidyn, University of Edinburgh), Dr Michelle Luciano (Psychology, University of Edinburgh), Dr Gary J Lewis (Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London), Dr Oliver Curry (Anthropology, Oxford University)
Funded by the John Templeton Foundation (c. $350K)