by Robert Plomin
Published by Penguin Books www.greenpenguin.co.uk
“DNA isn’t all that matters but it matters more than everything else put together,” says psychologist and geneticist Robert Plomin.
If you’ve heard about personality studies done on sets of twins reared in different families, Plomin is probably the guy who did them. His results (and many others) reveal that our personality, education and health are mostly contingent on the genetic mix we are handed at birth. It’s not that environment doesn’t matter but like roly-poly clowns buffeted by the winds of life, we usually return to our genetic equilibrium.
The predictive power of this new genetics is probabilistic rather than deterministic and the book necessarily leans a bit more towards the science end of popular science. Plomin does his best to keep it non-technical but some acronyms and statistics are unavoidable. It would be a gross simplification to reduce ‘Blueprint’ to a handful of takeaways but this is a short review so here we go.
For mental health says Plomin, “the abnormal is normal” with only quantative rather than qualitive differences between arbitrary ‘sick’ and ‘well’ distinctions. We’re all ‘on the spectrum’ for everything. Good news for parents; how you raise your kids mostly doesn’t matter. Read to them, or don’t, send them to a good school or a bad one. Ultimately, the numbers show, differences even out. The bad news is that genetic influences become more prominent as we age so yes, you’ll probably turn into your parents.
The ideas in ‘Blueprint’ require a complete about face in how we approach education, mental health, work and many other aspects of our lives. There’s a danger that some things (like private medicine) might go all Gattica on us but against that there’s unprecedented opportunity to, as Plomin says, “prevent problems and promote promise”.
Genes, as Plomin is keen to point out, may not be fate but they certainly seem to be stacking the deck.