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Unit information: Genes and Behaviour in 2020/21

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Unit name Genes and Behaviour
Unit code PSYC30018
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Haworth
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Psychological Science
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences


A surprising finding in genetics is that behavioural traits are just as heritable as physical health conditions. This unit will explore the different statistical methodologies for investigating the importance of genetic and environmental influence on behaviour, including twin and adoption designs, and DNA studies.

The aims of this unit are to provide students with a critical understanding of the methods in behavioural genetics, and how these have been used to investigate the roles of genes and environments in creating individual differences in behavioural outcomes.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, a student will be able to:

  1. Illustrate behavioural genetics as contributing to research disciplines within psychology
  2. Analyse contemporary methods used in behavioural genetics
  3. Demonstrate how behavioural genetics research explores the role of genes and environment on behaviour
  4. Summarise the implications of finding genetic influences on behaviour

Teaching details

Weekly lectures and seminars.

1 x synchronous 'seminar' per week. These will take a variety of different forms depending on the focus of the week, but will include Q&A based on the weeks' content, student discussion groups and Q&A with invited speakers.

Assessment Details

1 x 1600-word essay (50%) and 1 x timed open book assessment (50%)

Reading and References


Plomin, R., Defries, J. C., Knopik, V. S., & Neiderhiser, J. M. (2013). Behavioral genetics (6th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.


Bloss, C. S., Schork, N. J., & Topol, E. J. (2011). Effect of direct-to-consumer genomewide profiling to assess disease risk. New England Journal of Medicine, 364(6), 524-534.

Haworth, C. M. A. & Davis, O. S. P. (2014). From observational to dynamic genetics. Frontiers in Genetics, 5:6. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2014.00006

Polderman, T. J. C., Benyamin, B., de Leeuw, C. A., Sullivan, P. F., van Bochoven, A., Visscher, P. M., & Posthuma, D. (2015). Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nature Genetics, 47(7), 702-709.

Robinson, E. B., Koenen, K. C., McCormick, M. C., Munir, K., Hallett, V., Happé, F., Plomin, R., & Ronald, A. (2012). A multivariate twin study of autistic traits in 12-year-olds: Testing the fractionable autism triad hypothesis. Behavior Genetics, 42(2), 245-255.

Viding, E., Fontaine, N. M., Oliver, B. R., & Plomin, R. (2009). Negative parental discipline, conduct problems and callous-unemotional traits: Monozygotic twin differences study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 195(5), 414-9.

Recommended and further reading will be made available through Blackboard.