The role of genetics in intervention research: Shaping positive youth development

Philosophically, our understanding of a virtuous or moral individual reflects ideals of human behavior including honesty, empathy, autonomy, and other relevant social skills that develop throughout the lifespan. Some interventions attempt to target these behaviors by focusing on positive youth development (i.e., competence, helping, and sharing behaviors) rather than on simps the absence of negative behaviors.

There is an assumption in this work that the environment is the sole influence with little consideration of the possible genetic influences of the individual that influences their likelihood to engage in a particular behavior. More specifically, there is very little understanding of how genetic influences may operate within the context of positive youth development. There are still gross misinterpretations of behavioral genetics due in part to the assumption that genetic influences on a behavior means there is no free will or potential for change. Due to this oversimplification, intervention research has consistently disregarded possible genetic influences when investigating risk in children. However, behavioral genetic research can inform intervention research by identifying potential mechanisms that may be effective targets for intervention. The conceptualization used in this research acknowledges that individuals have an underlying genetic propensity with which they interact with the world; however, that interaction can in turn be shaped by the environment, signifying that the child is an active participant within their environment and has free will. As such, to have a meaningful impact on intervention strategies, research in behavioral genetics must help to address the gap between research and intervention both theoretically and empirically.

The purpose of this project is to explore the implications of behavioral genetics research for theories of intervention that target positive youth development and moral character. This project will advocate for the incorporation of genetic influences on the understanding of moral development as well as empirically examine the genetic and environmental influences on moral character.

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