Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 133–147 | Cite as

The misuse of behavioral genetics in prevention research, or for whom the “bell curve” tolls

  • Walker S. Carlos PostonII
  • Allen A. Winebarger


In recent years, prevention research has increasingly emphasized the role of biological and genetic factors in the etiology of numerous mental health related problems (e.g. violence, conduct and school problems, mood disorders, and substance abuse) rather than viewing them as complex biopsychosocial phenomena. This current pattern of focusing on reductionistic constitutional deficit models and de-emphasizing the role of psychosocial factors is not a new trend, but part of a historical pattern in western science. Prevention researchers have recently utilized Behavioral Genetics methodologies to support these constitutional deficiency models. The current article proposes an alternative viewpoint that proposes two basic ideas: First, most advocates of constitutional deficiency models tend to ignore or discount large bodies of research that illustrate the undeniable influence of environmental factors; secondly, given the historical failure of the field of Behavioral Genetics to apply state of the art behavior sampling techniques, most of the genetics literature utilized by prevention researchers is essentially uninterpretible. Preliminary data from the Oregon Twin Project are presented in support of these assertions. Finally, we discuss reasons why prevention researchers often overlook the problems with the Behavioral Genetics research.

Key words

behavioral genetics prevention neo-eugenics 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walker S. Carlos PostonII
    • 1
  • Allen A. Winebarger
    • 1
  1. 1.Malcolm Grow Medical CenterUSA

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