Using genetics for social science

K. Paige Harden*, Philipp D. Koellinger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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Social science genetics is concerned with understanding whether, how and why genetic differences between human beings are linked to differences in behaviours and socioeconomic outcomes. Our review discusses the goals, methods, challenges and implications of this research endeavour. We survey how the recent developments in genetics are beginning to provide social scientists with a powerful new toolbox they can use to better understand environmental effects, and we illustrate this with several substantive examples. Furthermore, we examine how medical research can benefit from genetic insights into social-scientific outcomes and vice versa. Finally, we discuss the ethical challenges of this work and clarify several common misunderstandings and misinterpretations of genetic research on individual differences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-576
Number of pages10
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number6
Early online date11 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


We thank C. Burik for preparing Fig. 1 and the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium ( for Fig. 3. P.D.K. was financially supported by an ERC consolidator grant (647648 EdGe). K.P.H. was supported by the Jacobs Foundation, the Templeton Foundation and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) grants R01-HD083613 and 5-R24-HD042849 (to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin). The funders had no role in the conceptualization, preparation or decision to publish this work.

FundersFunder number
National Institute of Child Health and Human DevelopmentR01HD083613
John Templeton Foundation
University of Texas at Austin
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development5-R24-HD042849
FP7 Ideas: European Research Council
European Research Council647648 EdGe
Jacobs Foundation


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