By Eve Kirman
When looking at the similarities and differences between individuals, scientists can agree that any deviations are a cause of two main factors – those of genetic makeup and of the environment in which a person is raised. However, there is a debate regarding the weight these elements hold in contributing to an individual’s attitudes and behaviour.
Studying identical twins is a great way to examine the nature versus nurture debate. The shared genetic code between these siblings provides a control variable – which might suggest that any differences between the individuals are a consequence of environmental factors. This reasoning is flawed for me as a monozygotic Twin.
Recent research by identical twins found that some people are more concerned about the environment than others due to their genes. Researchers found that identical twins were more likely to have similar attitudes towards the environment than their non-identical counterparts. Researchers, from the National University of Singapore, used data from over 1,000 twins in response to questions concerning each individual’s attitude towards nature, conservationism and the climate crisis. The TwinsUK registry is the largest UK database devoted to twins.
Twin studies are generally useful because they can disentangle environmental and genetic factors. Researchers can see the influence that a gene has on the development of many psychological or physiological disorders, since identical twins share the exact same genetics as fraternal twins. Fraternal twins share only half of their genes. If a characteristic is more common in identical twins than in fraternal twins, it could indicate that the genetic factors are responsible. Twin studies have previously shown that many diseases have a genetic base, including anorexia.
However, the logic behind twin studies isn’t watertight. It assumes that the twins, fraternal or identical, were raised in the same environment – which often is not the case and difficult to quantify. The prenatal environment is the environment that a developing foetus experiences. These conditions are more similar in identical twins because they often share the exact same placenta. Chia-chen Chang is the lead author of the environmental study. The Guardian that “heritability estimates are influenced by both genetics and environments”, going on to agree that “our environmental behaviour is probably more complicated than we think”.
Felix Tropf is a professor at Center for Research in Economics and Statistics. He also shares this sentiment and argues that this particular research was futile. He says that the study is not “extremely useful for the issue [of climate change].” Tropf also adds that while “It’s good to analyse the influences on individual behaviour towards environmentalism, […] in the end, climate change is a structural problem, a systemic problem and a political problem.” Thus, ultimately, when it comes to the climate crisis we should be promoting productivity in terms of scientific research and not just trying to make headlines.
Image: Tony Webster via flickr