In Search of GE: Why We Have Not Documented a Gene–Social Environment Interaction Yet

Part of the National Symposium on Family Issues book series (NSFI)


In this chapter, I argue that social science and genomics can be integrated – however, the way this marriage is currently occurring rests on spurious methods and assumptions and, as a result, will yield few lasting insights. Recent advances in both econometrics and developmental genomics provide scientists with a novel opportunity to understand how genes and (social) environment interact. Key to any causal inference about genetically heterogeneous effects of social conditions is that either genetics be exogenously manipulated while environment is held constant (and measured properly) and/or that environmental variation is exogenous in nature – i.e., experimental or arising from a natural experiment of sorts. Further, allele selection should be motivated by findings from genetic experiments in (model) animal studies linked to orthologous human genes. Likewise, genetic associations found in human population studies should then be tested through knock-out and overexpression studies in model organisms. Finally, epigenetic and gene expression analysis of corpse brains offers a potentially fruitful way to get at mechanisms by which social environment affects gene pathways.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Stressful Life Event Fraternal Twin National Longitudinal Survey Regression Discontinuity 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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