Our group investigates how genes influence economic behavior, and how insights into the genetic architecture of behavioral outcomes can inform social and medical research. We use big data, powerful computers, and advanced quantitative methods for our interdisciplinary work.
A new, interdisciplinary field of research
Twin and family studies show that most human behaviors and traits are moderately heritable. This includes individual charateristics such as personality or risk tolerance, but also outcomes such as educational attainment and well-being.
But which genes are responsible for this heritability? Knowing the genetic variants associated with such outcomes could lead to new insights into the causal pathways underlying human behavior, including the complex interplay of environmental and genetic factors. Thus, social scientists, including economists, have begun to look to genetics to inform their work.
The overall aim of this new interdisciplinary research field is to address the following questions:
i. Can particular genetic markers associated with social-science traits be identified?
ii. To what extent can genetic data be informative about an individual’s traits?
iii. How does the environment moderate genetic effects?
iv. How can genetic insights be integrated into the social sciences?
v. How can medical research benefit from insights about the genetics of social-science traits?
By now, it is clear that human behavior is “genetically complex”. In other words, the heritability of human behavior is not due to a few genes with large effects. Instead, thousands of genes with very small effects each play are role. Identifying genes with such small effects requires stringent statistical methods and very large sample sizes. The good news is that the necessary data and methods now exist. We are in the middle of an exciting era of genetic discoveries that will shed a light on the biology of human cognition, but also help us to better understand the role of the environment.
- Okbay A., Beauchamp J.P., Fontana M.A., Lee J.J., Pers T.H., Rietveld C.A., Turley P.,…, Visscher P.M., Esko T., Koellinger P.D., Cesarini D., Benjamin, D.J. (2016) Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment, Nature (doi:10.1038/nature17671).
- Okbay A., Baselmans B.M.L., de Neve J.-E., Turley P., Nivard M.G., Fontana M.A., Meddens S.F.W., Linner R.K., Rietveld C.A.,…, Krueger R.F., Beauchamp J.P., Koellinger P.D., Benjamin D.J., Bartels M., Cesarini D. (2016) Genetic variants associated with subjective well-being, depressive symptoms and neuroticism identified through genome-wide analyses, Nature Genetics (doi:10.1038/ng.3552).
- Rietveld C.A.,…, Benjamin D.J., Cesarini D., Koellinger P.D. (2014) Proxy-phenotype approach identifies common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance, PNAS, 111(38), 13790–13794.
- Rietveld C.A.,…, Benjamin D.J., Cesarini D., Koellinger P.D. (2013) GWAS of 126,559 individuals identifies genetic variants associated with educational attainment, Science, 340(6139), 1467-1471.
- Beauchamp J., Cesarini D., Johannesson M., van der Loos M., Koellinger P.D., Groenen P., Fowler J., Rosenquist N., Thurik R., Christakis N. (2011) Molecular genetics and economics, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(4), 57-82.