Behavior Genetics

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 211–220 | Cite as

The Role of Emergence in Genetically Informed Relationships Research: A Methodological Analysis

  • Jessica E. SalvatoreEmail author
  • Kenneth S. Kendler
Original Research


This paper provides a critical analysis of genetically informed research on relationships, with an emphasis on relationships among unrelated individuals (e.g., spouses). To date, research in this area has used traditional behavioral genetic frameworks to either partition the variance in relationship-related outcomes into genetic and environmental components, or to examine gene–environment interplay between relationship factors and other outcomes. However, this conventional approach is at odds with the long-standing understanding from the field of relationship science that both partners’ characteristics matter when predicting shared outcomes—that is, outcomes that are emergent. We examine briefly the philosophical concept of emergence, and discuss ways to model dyadic outcomes in genetically informed relationships research. We also review the related topic of social genetic effects, which refer to the influence of a social partner’s genotype on a proband’s phenotype. A genetically informed dyadic perspective has potentially important consequences for our understanding of the pathways from genotype→shared or individual-level phenotypes, and more fully recognizes the complexity of how genetic and social/environmental factors come together to influence human behavior.



This project was supported by a Genetics and Human Agency Junior Investigator Award to JES (Grant No. #28). Additional support comes from K01AA024152 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This work is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official view of the funders.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Jessica E. Salvatore and Kenneth S. Kendler declare that they have no competing interests.

Informed consent

Not applicable.

Research involving human and animal rights

Not applicable.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  4. 4.Department of Human and Molecular GeneticsVirginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA

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