Sociology Index


Heritability is the extent to which a characteristic of a living organism is genetically determined, rather than shaped by the surrounding environment.

In the social sciences, this term 'heritability' is chiefly associated with debate about the heritability of characteristics such as intelligence, criminality, gender behavior, aggressiveness. Heritability means each of these is shaped most by biological (genetic) inheritance or by the influence of environmental factors like culture, socialization and physical nutrition?

Heritability of Attitudes Constrains Dynamic Social Impact 
Martin J. Bourgeois, University of Wyoming - Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 8, 1063-1072 (2002)
Three studies tested the hypothesis that there are genetic constraints on group-level self-organization.

In Study 1, an analysis of archival data reported in Eaves, Eysenck, and Martin showed that large groups of monozygotic and dizygotic twins display greater group-level diversity of opinions on issues with higher heritabilities. Results of Study 2 suggested that small groups discussing opinion issues that were higher in heritability showed less tendency toward consolidation (reduction in diversity). Study 3 was a field study showing that students living in a campus housing complex showed less geographic clustering of attitudes on issues with a larger genetic component. Theoretical and practical implications of heritability constraints on dynamic social impact are discussed.

Abstract: We focus on schools as important social institutions that condition the magnitude of genetic influences on smoking behaviors. Specifically, we develop and test five hypotheses that examine gene-environment interactions using the sibling-pair data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Based on estimates using traditional quantitative genetic techniques we find that 59 percent of the variation in smoking behaviors is heritable in nature. However, when this estimate is obtained using a multi-level modeling framework with adolescent pairs nested within schools, we observe a significant reduction in the overall estimate (h2 = .46). Most importantly we also demonstrate significant variation in heritability across schools. We find that heritability is significantly reduced within schools characterized as having strong norms regarding smoking behaviors and within schools with limited resources.

Natalia S. Gavrilova, Leonid A. Gavrilov, Victoria G. Semyonova, Galina N. Evdokushkina
Center on Aging, NORC/University of Chicago.
Abstract: Familial resemblance in lifespan between children and parents was studied by many researchers for a century, but no attention has so far been paid to the possible effects of parental age at childbirth on familial transmission of longevity. In this study we have tested the hypothesis that familial resemblance between offspring and parental lifespan is higher for children born to younger parents, as expected both for genetic reasons (higher genetic diversity of younger parents) and for cultural reasons (higher overlapping between parental and offspring life cycles).

The Heritability of Psychological Resiliency
Jason D. Boardman, University of Colorado, Department of Sociology and Institute of Behavioral Science.
Abstract: This paper examines the role of unobserved genetic factors as important determinants of psychological well-being among a national sample of U.S. adults. Using sibling and twin-pair data from the National Survey of Mid-Life Development in the U.S. (MIDUS), this paper will examine the relative contribution of heritability to overall variance in psychological resiliency. Psychological resiliency is assessed as a function of adults’ levels of psychological distress after considering life-time exposure to acute and chronic stressors. Several studies have found resiliency to be a heritability trait but no studies have used data from a national sample and none have examined the moderating role of the social environment in this process.