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The Role of Genetics in Intervention Research: Shaping Positive Youth Development

John Templeton Foundation
University of Virginia subcontract GF 13361-152622
Administered in: College of the Liberal Arts


Our understanding of a virtuous or moral individual reflects ideals of human behavior including honesty, empathy, autonomy, and other relevant 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) in family and school contexts. However, there is an assumption that the environment is the sole influence with little consideration of possible genetic influences. More specifically, there is very little understanding of how genetic influences may operate within the context of positive youth development. However, behavioral genetic research can help inform intervention research by identifying potential mechanisms that may be effective targets for intervention. 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 objectives of this project will be to advocate for the incorporation of genetic influences on the understanding of moral development as well as empirically examine the genetic and environmental influences on virtuous and moral characteristics. These objectives will take shape with (1) a theoretical paper, discussing the ethical responsibility of researchers to consider underlying genetic influences that may be involved in the development of virtuous character, and (2) an empirical paper, examining the role of genetic influences on the development of social competence, autonomy and social responsibility from early childhood to late adolescence.