Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 221–234 | Cite as

Causal Reasoning About Human Behavior Genetics: Synthesis and Future Directions

  • Kate E. LynchEmail author
  • James S. Morandini
  • Ilan Dar-Nimrod
  • Paul E. Griffiths
Original Research


When explaining the causes of human behavior, genes are often given a special status. They are thought to relate to an intrinsic human ‘essence’, and essentialist biases have been shown to skew the way in which causation is assessed. Causal reasoning in general is subject to other pre-existing biases, including beliefs about normativity and morality. In this synthesis we show how factors which influence causal reasoning can be mapped to a framework of genetic essentialism, which reveals both the shared and unique factors underpinning biases in causal reasoning and genetic essentialism. This comparison identifies overlooked areas of research which could provide fruitful investigation, such as whether normative assessments of behaviors influence the way that genetic causes are ascribed or endorsed. We also outline the importance of distinguishing reasoning processes regarding genetic causal influences on one’s self versus others, as different cognitive processes and biases are likely to be at play.


Causation Genetic essentialism Psychological essentialism Bias Normativity Science communication 



This study was funded by the Sir John Templeton Foundation (Genetics and Human Agency Project).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Kate E. Lynch, James S. Morandini, Ilan Dar-Nimrod and Paul E. Griffiths declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

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


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Charles Perkins CentreUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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