Description: What does it mean to say that some human trait or behavior is partially genetically linked? Does saying that change or influence how we think about the trait? Looked at another way what would the socio-cultural (and perhaps political) implications be of a trait or behavioral tendency being partially genetically linked? Would your answers to these questions vary if the trait in question was color blindness? How about intelligence? How about sexual orientation (defined in a simplistic and limited way as ‘ever having engaged in sex with someone of the same sex)? The problem is that our thinking about these sorts of questions often boils down to thinking in terms of simple, single gene, inheritance situations, like red-green color blindness and our thinking about the other implied side of these questions – that if a trait is not ‘caused’ genetically (due to nature) then it is caused by the environment and/or by choice of some sort, potentially. In the socio-cultural politics of gender identity and sexual orientation one wonders if there is anything at all to be gained by asking nature/nurture questions. The authors of the research paper described in the article linked below and the journal that published the research article itself pondered these questions and then decided to go ahead and publish the research. From a Psychology perspective I do not have a strong view of this but from larger social perspective I believe there are a number of things to be pondered in relation to this research. Gather your own thoughts on these matters together and then read the article linked below and see where it takes you in your thinking.
Source: There is no ‘gay gene.’ There is no ‘straight gene.’ Sexuality is just complex, study confirms. Nsikan Akpan, PBS News Hour, Science.
Date: August 29, 2019
Photo Credit: PBS News Hour
So, we cannot predict sexual orientation (as simplistically defined in the research discussed) for people’s genetic profiles which account for 8 to 25% of the prediction variability and no one gene accounts for more that 1% of the variability of prediction. Also, there were issues with the dataset used in the study, as large as it was, which included that it was mainly white, limited in sexual orientations identified and in how the question of sexual orientation was operationalized based on the data they had in hand. The last word on this, for now, belongs to the author of the research paper itself: “Our findings provide insights into the biological underpinnings of same-sex sexual behavior but also underscore the importance of resisting simplistic conclusions, because the behavioral phenotypes are complex, because our genetic insights are rudimentary, and because there is a long history of misusing genetic results for social purposes.”
Questions for Discussion:
- What did the research discussed in the article linked above have to say about the relationship between genes (nature) and environment (nurture) on sexual orientation?
- What should the next research steps in this area involve?
- What are the socio-cultural (political) implications of this sort of research and of this study in particular?
References (Read Further):
Ganna, A. et al, (2019) Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior, Science, 365 (6456). https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6456/eaat7693.full
Jannini, E. A., Blanchard, R., Camperio-Ciani, A., & Bancroft, J. (2010). Male homosexuality: Nature or culture?. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(10), 3245-3253. https://www.academia.edu/download/15752739/JSM_Controversy_Homosexual.pdf
Sherry, J. L. (2004). Media effects theory and the nature/nurture debate: A historical overview and directions for future research. Media Psychology, 6(1), 83-109. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/John_Sherry/publication/228914161_Media_Effects_Theory_and_the_NatureNurture_Debate_A_Historical_Overview_and_Directions_for_Future_Research/links/0f317534d5c9dcd800000000/Media-Effects-Theory-and-the-Nature-Nurture-Debate-A-Historical-Overview-and-Directions-for-Future-Research.pdf
Bailey, J. M., Vasey, P. L., Diamond, L. M., Breedlove, S. M., Vilain, E., & Epprecht, M. (2016). Sexual orientation, controversy, and science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(2), 45-101. https://scholar.google.ca/scholar?output=instlink&q=info:t6rgBCQ9iccJ:scholar.google.com/&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&scillfp=4981462354644497394&oi=lle