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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The heritability fallacy

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The term ‘heritability,’ as it is used today in human behavioral genetics, is one of the most misleading in the history of science. Contrary to popular belief, the measurable heritability of a trait does not tell us how ‘genetically inheritable’ that trait is. Further, it does not inform us about what causes a trait, the relative influence of genes in the development of a trait, or the relative influence of the environment in the development of a trait. Because we already know that genetic factors have significant influence on the development of all human traits, measures of heritability are of little value, except in very rare cases. We, therefore, suggest that continued use of the term does enormous damage to the public understanding of how human beings develop their individual traits and identities. WIREs Cogn Sci 2017, 8:e1400. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1400 This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Genes and Environment Neuroscience > Development
Lewontin's thought experiment. Genetically variable seeds that develop in controlled environments grow to varying heights. The heritability of height in both the (a) and (b) panels is 100%, because all plants in each panel are exposed to the same environment; thus, all of the variation in height (within a panel) is accounted for by genetic variation. Despite height being 100% heritable in both the left panel and the right panel, plants’ heights are still influenced by the quality of the nutrients they encounter in their environments; mature plants that develop in a deficient nutrient solution (b) are shorter, on average, than are mature plants that develop in a normal nutrient solution (a). Source: http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/plants.gif) and Lewontin.
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Natural variability in human eye colors. Source: Sturm and Frudakis.
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An illustration of why it makes little sense to attempt to quantify the relative importance of two different factors that interact with one another to produce an outcome. Because genetic and nongenetic factors interact with one another to produce phenotypes, it is not possible to accurately assess the relative importance of their contributions to the phenotypes they produce. Source: Keller.
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Monozygotic (‘identical’) twins often share a placenta (a), whereas, dizygotic (‘fraternal’) twins never share a placenta (b). As a result, most monozygotic twins develop in prenatal environments that are more similar than are the prenatal environments in which dizygotic twins develop. Source: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/217570/dizygotic‐twin.
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