This module aims to introduce students to the debate about whether and how genetics should be taken into account in the planning and practice of education. It will provide students with sufficient background in the behavioural genetics of learning abilities and disabilities for them to develop an informed perspective. Students will be enabled to independently analyse a range of sources from behavioural genetics, psychology, politics and education, and to critically engage with the overlaps between these disciplines. The module aims to support students in engaging with different forms of evidence and argument, reviewing their reliability, validity and significance to psychology in education.
Module learning outcomes
Develop knowledge and the ability to explain behavioural genetic principles and practices e.g. twin studies and Genome-Wide Association Studies.
Explore and critically evaluate assumptions and evidence related to the heritability of learning abilities and disabilities.
Critically analyse the historical and political background to debates about genetics and education.
Critically examine the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of behavioural genetics with regard to education.
Develop a personal and evidence-based perspective on the genetics of education debate through close examination of behavioural genetic evidence regarding reading, maths, science, general intelligence, behaviour problems, and home and classroom environments.
Apply theoretical knowledge and understanding gained in lectures and private reading to a current issue they have identified independently.
Academic and graduate skills
Students will learn how to:
Assimilate information to develop an informed personal perspective on a controversial topic.
Effectively communicate a reasoned argument, and the evidence underpinning it, in both written and oral form.
Identify and synthesise a range of sources e.g. academic papers, media reports, policy documents and social media discussions, and critically evaluate their reliability, validity and relevance.
Analyse the ways in which theories and data from differing disciplines can inform each other and can be applied in different contexts to enhance understanding.
Work proactively and autonomously to select and manage information and use this to engage effectively in debate.
Present reading and ideas to expert and non-expert audiences in a poster format.
The following outline is representative of the lectures that will be given but may be subject to small changes.
Week 1 – Behavioural Genetics: The Rise and Fall of a Discipline
Individual differences and inheritance
Galton and his legacy
Genetic determinism and Eugenics
Genetics as a Taboo subject
Week 2 – Genetic and Environmental Determinism
Blank slatism and the John/Joan case
Week 3 – Twin and Adoption Methods
ACE estimates and the meaning of heritability
Equal Environments and other assumptions in twin research
The adoption method
Week 4 – Heritability and the Human Genome
Quantitative Genetics (R.A. Fisher; Donald Falconer and the ACE Model)
DNA and the Human Genome Project
Week 5 – Genetic and Environmental Influences on Intelligence
What is intelligence and can it be measured?
The Flynn Effect
Twin studies of general cognitive ability
Moderators of the heritability of general cognitive ability
Using GWAS to identify ‘intelligence genes’
Genetics and intellectual disability
Week 6 – Genetic and Environmental Influences on Academic Achievement
Heritability of reading ability and the moderating effects of teachers and culture
Genetic and environmental influences on academic performance in primary school and at GCSE and A Level
Week 7 – Genes, Environment and Developmental Psychopathology
Prevalence of Childhood Disorder
Autistic Spectrum Disorder
ADHD and Disruptive Disorders (hyperactivity, conduct disorder and callous-unemotional traits)
Week 8 – Environmental Influences and GE Interplay
Week 9 – The application of genetic research in schools
Individual written feedback reports, with follow-up tutor meeting if necessary. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information
Asbury, K. & Plomin, R. (2013). G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Education and Achievement. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.
Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., Knopik, V. S., & Neiderheiser, J. (2013). Behavioral genetics. Palgrave Macmillan.
Walker, S.O. & Plomin, R. (2005). The Nature-Nurture Question: Teachers’ perceptions of how genes and the environment influence educationally relevant behaviour. Educational Psychology, 25, 509 – 516.