Mental disorders - Terms of reference

(1) To survey the current field of research relating to the genetics of mental disorders and to report on recent and prospective advances.

(2) In particular, to review:

(a) whether there are sufficiently firm criteria for diagnosis;

(b) how substantial the evidence is implicating genetic influences.

(3) To review the potential clinical applications of the research.

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Genetics and behaviour - Selecting traits

If we can identify genes that influence a particular behavioural trait, it may be possible to identify and select people who have that trait. This is an area of particular concern because the information could also be used to select which people should (or should not) be born. It is important to stress that this is not currently possible and there are huge practical difficulties.

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Genetics and behaviour - Key findings

  • We conclude that research in behavioural genetics does have the potential to advance our understanding of human behaviour, and so should be allowed to continue. However, it is important to ensure there are safeguards to protect against its misuse.

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Genetics and behaviour - Changing traits

If we can identify which genes influence behaviour, it may be possible to use this information to modify people’s behaviour, by developing a range of approaches or treatment.

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Genetics and behaviour - Scientific background

The report considers behavioural traits such as intelligence, personality (including anxiety, novelty-seeking and shyness), antisocial behaviour (including aggression and violent behaviour) and sexual orientation. The focus is on behaviour within the normal range of variation, rather than diseases or disorders.

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Genetics and behaviour - Introduction

Do we inherit our behaviour? Or does it depend on our upbringing? There is little doubt that genes do have some influence on our personality. But how much? Research to find out how our genes influence our behaviour is complex and controversial. There are concerns both about the science itself and the potential applications.

Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context examines the ethical, legal and social issues that behavioural genetics raises. This summary sets out some of the arguments and recommendations which are discussed in more detail in the report.

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Genetics and behaviour - Chapter downloads

You can download the individual chapters of this report using the links below. (All files are PDFs and less than 1.6MB).

Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Chapter 2 - Historical context

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Genetics and behaviour - Terms of reference

1 To define and consider ethical, social and legal issues arising from the study of the genetics of variation within the normal range of behavioural characteristics.[1]

2 To survey the current field of research, in particular, to review:

(a) the evidence for the relative importance of genetic influences;

(b) the basis for characterisation and measurement of behaviour;

(c) the relationship between normal variation in behaviour and disease processes.

3 To consider potential applications of the research.

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