Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 168–174 | Cite as

Genes and Virtue: Exploring How Heritability Beliefs Shape Conceptions of Virtue and Its Development

  • Matthew Vess
  • Rebecca J. Brooker
  • Matt Stichter
  • Jenae M. Neiderhiser
Original Research


In this paper, we provide an overview of our ongoing project in the Genetics and Human Agency Initiative sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation. Our project focuses on the ways that lay beliefs about the heritability of virtue influence reasoning about the nature of virtue, parenting behaviors, and the development of virtue in children. First, we provide philosophical perspectives on the nature of virtue and suggest that viewing virtue as a malleable skill may have important advantages. Next, we review theory and research that highlights the ways that lay heritability beliefs potentially undermine conceptualizations of virtue as a malleable skill. Finally, we discuss how lay heritability beliefs might ultimately affect parent–child interactions and child virtue development. The paper thus provides a brief description our project’s theoretical foundation and a general look at the empirical questions it will tackle.


Genetic essentialism Virtue Lay heritability beliefs 



This project was funded by The John Templeton Foundation’s Genetics and Human Agency Initiative.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Matthew Vess declares that he has no conflict of interest. Rebecca Brooker declares that she has no conflict of interest. Matt Stichter declares that he has no conflict of interest. Jenae Neiderhiser declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  2. 2.School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public AffairsWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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