Health, genes and behavior


Behavior genetics examines the origin of variations in human behavior. More specifically, it addresses to what extend variations in genetic disposition and environmental factors account for individual differences in mental and physical health and behavior. We address a range of manifestations of behavior by ways of psychophysiological, neuropsychological and psychometric assessments.

Before embarking on a behavioral genetic approach in the different research areas, we define and develop psychophysiological and behavioral indexes of brain functioning, stress, affect, and disorders. This is also emphasized in our research in each of the subprogrammes. Psychophysiological research is crucial to determine hormonal, cardiovascular, and electrophysiological indexes of complex behavior. Identifying appropriate psychophysiological indicators will eventually enable the identification of the genes and that are involved in human cognition, brain functioning, and health.

Human behaviour genetics is characterised by:

  • Innovating methodological and quantitative genetics. We also develop new applications of structural equasion models for the purpose of genetic-epidemiological research, as well as genetic linkage and association research with DNA markers.
  • Combining the disciplines of statistical-genetic, psychophysiological, and molecular genetic research. This approach enables mapping of the heritable aspects of behavior, cognition and health.
  • Developing and maintaining a large infrastructural database for longitudinal behaviour genetic research. The Dutch Twin Register (NTR) contains 21,000 twinpairs between the age of 0 and 13 years, and over 7,000 older twinpairs of whom parents, siblings, and spouses also consented to participate in scientific research.

We apply behavior genetic research to following research areas:

  • Brain and cognition
  • Stress and health
  • Development of affect, disorders, and health behavior

Key publications
Boomsma DI, Beem AL, Berg M van den, Dolan CV, Koopmans JR, Vink JM, Geus EJC de, Slagboom PE (2000). Netherlands twin family study of anxious depression (NETSAD), Twin Research, 3, 323-334

Boomsma DI, Geus EJC de, Baal GCM van, Koopmans JR (1999). Religious upbringing reduces the influence of genetic factors on disinhibition: Evidence for interaction between genotype and environment, Twin Research, 2, 115-125

Dolan CV, Boomsma DI, Neale MC (1999). A simulation study of the effects of assigning prior IBD probabilities to unselected sib-pairs in covariance structure modeling of a QTL test, Am J Human Genetics, 64, 268-280

Martin N, Boomsma DI, Machin G (1997). A twin-pronged attack on complex traits, Nature Genetics, 17, 387-391

Posthuma D, Geus EJC de, Neale MC, Hulshoff Pol HE, Baare WFC, Kahn RS, Boomsma DI (2000). Multivariate genetic analysis of brain structure in an extended twin design, Behavior Genetics, 30, 311-319

Koopmans JR, Slutske WS, Heath AC, Neale MC, Boomsma DI (1999). The genetics of smoking initiation and quantity smoked in Dutch adolescent and young adult twins. Behavior Genetics, 29, 383-393

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