The field of behavioral genetics was introduced by the cousin of Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). Galton, a British population geneticist was the first to document his study of heredity and human behavior. Galton concentrated his studies on correlations found among families of a certain social status to discover which character traits might be inherited. Galton coined the term “eugenics” which meant “well-born.” (Lehrman, 1998). However, the term “genetics” began to be used shortly before Galton’s death.
The field of genetics studies biological differences. Human behavioral genetics is a fairly new branch of genetics. This branch concentrates on the influences of both genetics and the environment on the variations in behavior among individuals. Human behavior geneticists often have a difficult task before them. It is exceedingly difficult to define behaviors and study them ethically. For example, if one studies intelligence, is he studying the ability to score well on an IQ test, or the ability to be successful in business, or is it the ability to excel at problem solving? While tests exist to measure ability, these tests do not define the trait. Another difficulty that behavior geneticists encounter is that many behaviors are complex and involve more than one gene. In order to combat this difficulty, most research centers around studies with twins and adopted twins in order to isolate internal and external influences (McInerney, nd.).
The Ugly Side of Eugenics
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the ethical study of genetics is a concern. Galton and his American colleague, Charles Davenport, studied and promoted eugenics in an effort to improve the quality of humans and to create a better future for mankind. Galton and Davenport researched patterns for undesirable character traits such as alcoholism, insanity, the propensity for criminality. In time, certain behavioral tendencies were linked to particular... [continues]
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