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Psychology homework 11th December 2010

Discuss the ethical considerations of research into genetic influences on

human behavior
For a long time, psychologists have done many researches on genetic influences on human
behavior. According to one of the three principles of Biological Level of Analysis, genetic
causes play an important role in influencing human behavior, from intelligence to mental
disorders such as schizophrenia, depressions… However, though these researches have
helped people to understand about the influences of genes, they also raise concern on the
ethical considerations of these researches.

There are several ethical issues that all researches have to follow. Deception is when the
researchers must not deceive the people into participating in the research. Right to withdraw
is when the participants have the right to withdraw during the research and should not be
pressurized on by the researchers. Informed consent is when the participants must be
informed everything about the research such as aims and method before it is carried out.
Confidentiality means that all the information gained from the research must be kept
confidential unless the participants agree for them to be published. And the last one is
participant protection, which means that the participant should be protected from any
physical or psychological harm during and after the research and that all of their private
personal information should be kept secret.

But the 3 key ethical issues that often relevant to researches on genetic influences are
participant protection and confidentiality.

The Texas Adoption Project was a study looking at adopted children and that was carried
out by Horn in 1983. This study was carried out to look at the genetic influences on
intelligence. This research involved the biological mothers and adoptive mothers of 469
children who were adopted by 300 families. Their IQ scores were gained to form 2
concordance rates of intelligence between biological mothers and children, which was 0.28,
and between adopted children and their adopted mothers, which was 0.15. The results
showed that the intelligence is more due to the genetic causes. This study had pointed out
the influences of genes. It also followed the ethical issues of informed consent and the
others, since they were not deceived or forced to participate in the research. However, it had
stepped over 2 ethical issues, which are participant protection and confidentiality. All the
data used in this research was taken from a private adoption agency in Texas. But these
data should not be revealed as they were personal data. No one would want their IQ test
scores to be exposed to others people since it would cause them to feel bad about
themselves, ashamed towards the others if their scores were low. This linked to participation
protection. But the problem was not only just about the IQ scores. The results also impacted
on the participants. Since the concordance rates showed that children intelligence is more
resemble to their biological mothers than their adoptive mothers, the results could cause
some psychological problems. Children, who had biological mothers with low IQ scores,
would think that they would not be as intelligent as the others, which could lead them to be
ashamed, sad or even depressed. Some of them may even single themselves out of the
society as they thought that they were not smart enough, which could lead to the downturn
of their future. Moreover, some adopted children wouldn’t want to know about their biological
mothers or some of them didn’t even know that they were adopted. The results could
destroy the relationship between them and their biological mothers or even between them
and their current adoptive families. These have made the research, although useful and
helpful to the psychologists, unethical.

Another study, which also carried with it the ethical consideration, was carried out by Heston
in 1966. This study looked at the heritability of schizophrenia in adoptive children. Heston
looked at 47 adults, who were adopted at birth and whose biological mothers had
schizophrenia, and compared them to 47 adopted adult, whose mothers were not
schizophrenic. The results showed that 10% of the experimental group developed
schizophrenia, whilst none of the control group had. This research suggested that there
might be a gene for schizophrenia. This, however, could lead to severe impacts on the
participants, since the key issue of participant protection wasn’t followed. The results could
cause discrimination to 10% of the experimental group who developed schizophrenia. They
would either separate themselves from other people or be discriminated by the others, since
a lot of people wouldn’t want to be close to schizophrenic people, in fear of dangers or being
affected in the same way. This could lead to harden their lives, since they would be
prevented from getting a job or doing normal activities within the society. Knowing that they
carried a gene for schizophrenia would cause mental illness such as depression, which
could have fatal impacts on them. Moreover, they would not want to get married or having
children in fear of passing them onto their child. If there really was a gene for schizophrenia,
it could be applied to be scan for babies developing in the mothers. This could lead to some
unethical issues such as they would want abortion, which means killing the babies, if they
don’t want their kid to be schizophrenic or even sterilized themselves. Regardless of the fact
that this research had followed some ethical issue such as deception, right to withdraw,
informed consent… and that it’s also helpful in studying the genetic influences, but the
severe impacts it had on the participants had made it an unethical study.

There are other studies that had violating the participant protection and had similar impacts
on the participants. These researches were such as the Bohman’s research on the rates of
criminal conviction in adopted children in 1995, or the study that looked at the concordance
rate of depression that twins shared, which was carried out by Allen in 1976. Both of these
studies suggested that violation and depression could be influenced greatly by genetic
causes. Therefore the participants could be impacted heavily similar to Heston’s study.

Another major ethical consideration, which has been going on since pre-World War 1 and
apart from the 3 above, is eugenics. Eugenic means ‘the study of methods of improving the
quality of the human race, especially by selective breeding’. This is a good cause but is
operated wrongly. Therefore put simply, eugenic is scientific racism. Based on its belief, the
middle class is more powerful, and more intelligent than the working class. Therefore,
according to some eugenicists, such as Francis Galton and Pearson, ‘the middle class must
begin to out breed the working class’.

This belief had caused many deaths to unborn and born children and the sterilization of
many working class people, which made it to be one of the most unethical issues. One of
eugenic case studies was the sterilization of the mentally ill, habitual criminals, and even
workers, which was proposed in Britain and the US, so that only the children with ‘good
genes’ would be breed. The Nazi Germany was also a popular eugenic case study, where
they enforced eugenic belief and forced many ways besides sterilization so that only children
with ‘good genes’ such as blond hair and blue eyes were kept. People at that time didn’t
realize that they were involving in a very unethical action that involved killing many innocent
children and deteriorating mental and physical health of the people in the working class.
Eugenic was the strongest during that period, pre and during the World Wars.

After World War 2, even eugenic seemed to be rejected after the declaration of UNESCO,
saying that “every human is the same with similar mental capacities”1, eugenic has appeared
again but more subtle and has intellectual origins. There are many famous studies on the IQ
of the human races such as Jensen, Herrnstein and Murray’s “The Bell Curve” and Lynn.

The Lynn’s study in 1977 suggested that the East Asians had higher IQ test scores than the
Whites, both within the US and in Asia, although the IQ tests were developed for use in the
Euro American culture.

The Jensen’s study in 1969, which was carried out in the American society, found out that
the East Asians had higher average IQ, which was 106, than the Whites, which was about
100, and the Blacks in the US, which was 85 and the sub-Saharan Africa, which was 70. He
suggested that the Blacks were less intelligent than White participants and that the working
class had lower IQ than the middle class.

Herrnstein and Murray’s “The Bell Curve” in 1994 implied evidence for the hereditary of
intelligence, which involved analysis of 11,878 youths, including 3,022 Blacks. The findings
were that most 17-year-old participants had high scores on the Armed Forces Qualification
Test, regardless of ethnic background and went on to occupational success. However,
people with lower scores would have to be dependent on welfare. And that the average IQ
for African Americans was lower than the average IQ for Latino, White, Asian and Jewish

Again, although these researches helped people to understand the importance of genetic
causes on intelligence, they also reinforced the class differences, ‘proving’ that people of
working class, or Black people would be less intelligence because they contained the ‘bad
genes’. They have contributed into the logical conclusion of William Shockley that
sterilization should occur based on IQ scores.

Due to these studies, ethical consideration on eugenics has been heightened greatly.
Because people consider intelligence is strongly based on gene, they would try to screen the
children for these genes. Being able to screen genes for intelligence could increase the
infant mortality because of abortion. Many people would want their kids to be intelligence
and so they would choose to abort their children. This is a very immoral act as it kills
innocent children. Many people don’t realize that they are killing living human mankind and
more significantly, their own sons/daughters. But not only children are affected, adults would
also be impacted. People, who are forced to be sterilized in order to out breed people with
low IQ, would be affected physically and psychologically. Abortion and sterilization could
harm people health. And being forced to be sterilized could make people to be depressed,
isolating themselves or even more serious mental disorders such as madness… Many of
these research suggests that intelligence is also based on races. Therefore it could cause
discrimination to races with lower IQ, especially the Blacks. Being discriminated, they would
be taken away their rights for high salary jobs, normal activities in the society and normal
activities in their lives. If many people believe in eugenics, and other studies mentioned

As summarized from UNESCO 1951, P8. Quoted in Eysenck, 1971.
above then scientists would then try to ‘design’ babies based on people desired traits. These
could become a significant problem since these babies could no longer be unique and the
results of two loving people, but more like a ‘perfect’ clone of people desires.

All the researches carried out aim at collecting the results as reliable and valid as possible.
So they usually ignore the ethical considerations, as they seem to prevent the results to be
accurate. But ignoring these ethical considerations means putting harms not only to the
participants but more importantly the lives of the people. Therefore, researchers should try to
follow the ethical issues as much as possible. Suggestions could be that informing the
participants to agree before participating that the results could have some negative effects
on them and that they could be required to know about their personal data, such as they are
adopted or they might carry some mental disorders as inherited from their biological parents,
providing advices to try to amend the effect having on the participants after the research,
informing and discussing with the parents if the research involves children below 18 or not
asking and keeping the personal details of the participants, in case of leaking out and
harming the participants. However, following these the researchers have to accept that the
results would not be as valid and reliable as before and that longitudinal study could not be
carried out.

There are possible solutions to eugenic as well. People could be raised awareness about
danger of sterilization, abortion and the immoral and negative of impact of eugenic having on
the society. This could be done through propaganda, news, or asking for helps from NGO
such as UNESCO, WHO… If people are more aware about eugenic, hopefully, eugenic
would be rejected again.

In conclusion, although the aim of the researches into the genetic influences on human
behavior is to help the people to understand the important of genetic causes on human
behavior and to be applied into finding out way to boost one’s intelligence or finding cure for
mental disorders such as schizophrenia. On the other hand, these researches also carry
with it the risks for the people and the participants, such as discrimination or mental
problems. Many of them have been considered as unethical and immoral as they cause
harms to the participants and the society as informed consent, participant protection and
confidentiality are not followed as researchers try to obtain the results as experimentally
valid as possible. The good cause of eugenic is also interpreted wrongly leading to high
number of dead children. However, these problems could be improve by reinforcing the
ethical issues or applying the suggestions above.