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Genes and Behavior: Nature-Nurture Interplay Explained
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2007
This is arguably the best introduction to the complex world of how genes affect human personality and behavior. It is far from an easy "read" and doesn't shy from the use of technical terms (an advantage for those who wish to go further but an impediment to more casual readers). The prose is somewhat leaden. Still -- it is a remarkable achievement. Rutter is a distinguished psychiatrist who has made major contributions to our understanding of psychiatric disorders and is well respected across the psychology-psychiatry divide.
The book accomplishes several goals. First, it provides a limited but useful survey of what is presently known about the genetic basis of mental disorders and personality/intelligence. Second (and more usefully) it discusses the logic of genetic causality and surveys the various methods used to uncover same. Third (and most importantly), it provides a balanced and nuanced discussion of all the ways that genes and environmental factors interact to produce human psychology. As such it provides a useful corrective to those who believe that genes are destiny and that there is a "gene (or genes)" for most human characteristics. The human genome project and associated research has now made it clear that the various ways genes affect humans are far more complex than anyone realized even 20 years ago. Unfortunately this has not become part of the popular wisdom, and so this book becomes essential reading for those interested in this fascinating and important topic. The study of psychology will increasingly be dominated by genetic science (and its sister discipline of neurobiology) and lay people as well as professionals will need a book such as this to help them on their way to a more complete understanding of how this is likely to play out. There are many books on the genetic underpinnings of psychological processes, but most are either simplistic or too technical for general consumption. An exception would be the books by Matt Ridley. The Rutter book is less accessible that the Ridley books, but more technically accomplished.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
I was once in the cafeteria having lunch with some friends, when Sir Michael Rutter came in for a moment to get a sandwich. One of our group leaned over and said, "That man's written more books than I've read. See, he doesn't even have time to sit down for lunch!"

It was said in jest, but my friend had a point: Mike has been re-creating several fields of psychology and psychiatry since the 1960s. Although best known as a child psychiatrist, he has made enormous contributions to the study of child development and the interactions between genes and the environment.

This book is a superb summary of some of the enormous changes that have transformed our understanding of genetics over the last two decades by someone who has been in the thick of it, as an investigator, mentor and teacher.

One of the biggest problems in psychology has been the polarization between the proponents of Nature and Nurture. Most folk psychology is driven by the notion that human behavior can be explained by a combination of learning and the environment, and largely neglects the role of genetics. So in that view, an alcoholic develops the illness because he observed alcohol abuse in the family, and genetics have nothing to do with it. The other extreme view is that the whole of human behavior can be reduced to sets of interacting genes. Both positions are unhelpful. The tension between psychosocial researchers and behavior geneticists has been sustained by the different theoretical perspectives that the two use to describe similar concepts. Most experts now understand that the key to understanding problems like the susceptibility and resilience to mental illness is to understand the interaction of genes and the environment over the lifespan of an individual. This book shows exactly how we can do that.

What this book does, and what makes it unique, is that it presents in non-technical language some of the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the biological, psychological and social research into human behavior. Mike treats us to a short account of modern genetic concepts, illustrated how genes may influence behavior, and also highlights the limitations of simple genetic explanations.

There are few examples of physical or psychological illness that can be traced to a single gene or to a single environmental event: the vast majority show clear evidence of both genetic and environmental influences. Temperament, cognition and mood all have genetic and environmental contributions. What will surprise many readers is that some socially defined behaviors such as criminality and divorce also have genetic and environmental components. Some genetically influenced behaviors affect the extent to which individuals are exposed to environmental risk. We might think of people who do extreme sports or smoke. Another example would be where a parent is genetically predisposed to antisocial behavior, and his behavior disrupts the normal functioning of a family. This is turn would contribute to a child's risk of developing antisocial behavior.

Genes may also contribute to a person's vulnerability to environmental stress. There are genes that increase a person's risk of developing, but only if the person is exposed to certain types of stress.

The notion that genes "cause" behavior - genetic determinism - is all but dead. Genes have indirect effects on behavior that are largely mediated by the environment.

If you have any interest in understanding how genes and the environment affect human behavior, you will find a goldmine of fascinating information in this highly readable book.

Highly recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2006
This is a broad introduction to the current scientific thoughts on the impact of genes and human behavior. The book is written in laymen's terms explaining what genes do and don't do in humans.

Dr. Rutter further investigates the effects of a child's upbringing on his life. He makes it clear that nature and nurture are really two sides of the same coin. They interact to determine our behavior. As he further explains the interplay between nature and nurture, he relates the current status of research in various areas and points out where such research is continuing and some ideas where it might lead.

The writing style in this book is well thought out and clearly explains the points he is making. At the same time, this is not a dumbed down book. It is written intelligently and for adults that have at least some understanding and interest in the subject.
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on August 9, 2010
Psychiatrist and researcher Michael Rutter is concerned about the lack of communication between those who believe genetic influences drive human behavior and those who claim such behavior is almost entirely shaped by the environment. Ritter pronounces both positions oversimplistic and attempts to educate readers in a more realistic perspective. His goal is to "provide a readable, non-technical account of what is involved in the various possible ways in which genetic influences on behavior may be important."

Rutter begins by describing the history and accomplishments of genetic research and how both actual findings and misunderstandings have generated controversy. He demonstrates that genetic effects are probabilistic rather than deterministic. Both genetic and environmental factors can either increase risk or offer some protection against development of a disorder or behavior pattern. But they do not determine it. He reviews the research methods used to investigate genetic influences on behavior and summarizes research findings that shed light on both genetic and environmental influences on a selection of mental traits and disorders. He closes with an integrative discussion of how "genes operate through the environment" by increasing chances individuals will encounter certain environments and will be susceptible to influences in those environments.

This book is not always an easy read, but it is a straightforward treatment of a complex subject that is worth understanding. It is recommended to readers who work in education and other disciplines where genetic influences on behavior are often discussed casually and without access to research findings from behavioral genetics.
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on August 7, 2009
This book would be a good choice as either a college textbook or as a casual read for anyone interested in gene/environment interactions. I believe the topic is of particular importance and the presentation is superb.
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