Autistic Traits Q. (was Re: Simple test for ADD?????)

Alan J. Robinson robin073 at maroon.tc.umn.edu
Sat Dec 9 08:01:51 EST 1995

On Fri, 08 Dec 1995 23:30:00 GMT, 
Mark Kemper  <m-kemper at therefore.com > wrote:

>Anthony Talo wrote:
>> ..
>> Mark,  There is very strong evidence that "personality" is mostly genetic, try these references:
>> For a lay-explanation -- Lawrence Wright The New Yorker, 8/7/95 issue, pages 45-62
>> For real data         -- Bouchard et al. Science vol. 250, pages 223-228
>>                          however, this was the first one in my piles.
>> Thomas Bouchard is the leading investigator in Twin studies and has done quite a bit of research on personality.  One of the take-home messages in his paper is
>> Of course that is their opinion, they may be wrong (apologies to Dennis Miller).
>> Dr. Anthony Talo
>> Department of Biology
>> Grand Valley State University
>> Allendale, MI 49401
>Yes, I am familiar with the debate; I even remember it was front page news
>on the NYT a few years back!
>But this research is extremely controversial. For one, you must define what
>is meant by the vague notion of personality.
>Is a propensity to violence genetic? And presuming you believe so, you
>consider that settled knowledge?
>But yes, the child is born with traits inherited. But the environment plays
>a significant role in a. shaping and b. exasperating traits. I presume you
>are aware of the recent research showing how childhood violence and abuse
>causes significant changes to the brain?
>I believe that it would be very difficult to say that all actions of an
>individual are determined from his genes. Changes to the brain affecting
>behavior can come from the environment too.


The reason this type of research is controversial is for political, 
not scientific reasons.  The case for a strong genetic foundation for 
human behavioral traits gets stronger every day.  Unfortunately, 
even most scientists don't read widely enough in the literature, so 
the type of discussions one sees in the New York Review of Books by 
the likes of Gould and Lewontin have little or no value.  E. O. 
Wilson's work on human sociobiology is equally of little or no 
scientific value.  (How did a bunch of biologists whose specialties 
are fossils and ants become such experts on human behavior anyway?  
They simply are not scientifically qualified.)

The controversy that Freud created with his theory of the 
transcendence of childhood trauma in shaping adult personality and 
psychopathology is still not completely resolved, which is part of the 
reason why the repressed memory movement has resurged.  However, this 
is the type of dispute that will largely be laid to rest once accurate 
genetic information is available, which will take place within less 
than one generation from now.

What has come out of the most recent research is how strong the 
genetic influence is, sometimes working in ways that seem 
counterintuitive.  For example, people become MORE like their 
true (genetic) selves as they mature.  One might expect that with the 
accumulation of diverse life experiences that personality and 
intelligence would diverge more and more in different individuals, but 
it doesn't work that way.

Many people are very concerned about what the genetic revolution 
might bring, and not simply because of the monstrous perversion of the 
eugenics movement that took place earlier this century.  The concept 
of innate flaws is very troubling, like being subject to eternal 
damnation.  But to deny that these genetic variations exist is an 
ostrich "head in the sand" solution which prevents us from coming to 
grips with the problem.

In fact, almost all of these genetic variations serve a purpose in 
certain situations, and genetic diversity is important for long term 
survival of a population.  What we need to ensure is that specific 
individuals do not suffer too many adverse consequences in comparison 
with the benefits of diversity.  Many people are going to be very 
surprised when it becomes known how closely many desirable behavioral 
traits are associated with the possibility of various medical and 
psychiatric conditions, and how widespread these variations are in the 
general population.

Eugenics is practiced on an informal basis now, whether one approves 
of it or not.  The approach that might be taken once detailed genetic 
profiles become available is one of matchmaking of potential marriage 
partners - making sure that the recessives don't match up too 
closely.  This has already been done for some single gene diseases in 
certain communities, but the principle can be extended to the entire 
genome.  Thus it is the MATCH that is important, not the individual's 
profile.  Breeding for unusually high musical or intellectual 
ability should be strongly discouraged - it is just as likely to 
lead to severe medical or psychiatric pathology.  The healthiest 
individuals will be very much "ordinary people".


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