Epigenetics and Psychology: The Relationship Between Genes and Behavior

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Modern epigenetics was introduced by Conrad Waddington in 1942, defied as “the branch of biology which studies the causal interactions between genes and their products which bring the phenotype into being” (Jablonka & Lamb, 2002).

It deals with the study of reversible changes in gene function that are heritable and that do not entail a change in the DNA sequence.

Epigenetics and psychology or “behavioral epigenetics” was only recently defined – as the application of the principles of epigenetics to the study of physiological, genetic, environmental and developmental mechanisms of behavior in human and nonhuman animals (Lester,

Tronic, Nestler, Abel, Kosofsky, …, & Wood, 2011). 

Epigenetics is, therefore, an interdisciplinary approach including psychology, psychiatry, genetics, biochemistry and several branches of the neurosciences.

One review looked closer at the link between epigenetics and psychology – to identify epigenetic mechanisms mediating between environmental and psychological factors that contribute to normal and abnormal behavioral development.

Read the original publication of this study here: [Epigenetics and its implications for Psychology

This study aimed to examine how epigenetics and psychology are linked – how environmental and psychological factors regulate the activity of our genome without involving changes in the DNA sequence.

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Epigenetics and its implications for Psychology

The team reviewed literature regarding the emerging field of epigenetics as related to psychology. The studies included how the topic has changed in recent years and decades, and how it has evolved from previously held beliefs.

Traditionally it was held that epigenetics and psychology were largely only linked prenatally, but views on the relationship between genes and behavior have changed.

The field of behavioral epigenetics indicates that our behavior could have long-lasting effects on the regulation of genome function. Adverse life events such as stresses, trauma, or disorganized attachment (when a parent consistently fails to respond appropriately to their child’s distress) are relevant to consider not just in regards to genetic factors.

While this work continues, it builds a larger problem. How does the scientific community agree to define “gene”? To stay with outdated terminology is to continue to label “genes” as independent units. One solution from biologist Evelyn Fox Keller is based on regarding “genes” as two separate entities. Keller labels “genes” as both structural and functional. This theory also welcomes future research and accepts a “gene” building off a structural sequence but also existing with branches into contextual understanding. This undefinable term could unlock future learning of cell biology and the mysticism hidden within.

This work is paramount to dispel that you will inherit intelligence levels or mental health problems, such as schizophrenia. The study and their work are ongoing with results changing to further increase visibility into the creativity of life. This study will continue to prove “Events that affect a living organism are above and beyond genetics, which is precisely the definition of epigenetics.”


  • In general, it can be stated that behavior and environment will finally take on a leading role in human development through epigenetic mechanisms.
  • Epigenetics has proven that mapping the DNA route is not enough to determine how a person will develop or what strengths and weaknesses will eventually emerge.
  • This further research is paramount in the mental health community to explaining links to environment and barriers including socioeconomic position.

You can read the original publication of this study here: [Epigenetics and its implications for Psychology]

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