Social context in gene-environment interactions: Retrospect and prospect

Michael J. Shanahan, Scott M. Hofer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


While many behavioral scientists believe that gene-environment (GE) interactions play an important and perhaps pervasive role in human development and aging, little attention has been devoted to a fundamental conceptual issue: What is it about social context that could alter gene expression? We draw on existing examples of GE interactions to formulate a typology that identifies a set of generic mechanisms by which E moderates G. Empirical studies suggest four ideal types: Social context can trigger a genetic diathesis, compensate for a genetic diathesis, act as a control to prevent behaviors for which there is a genetic predisposition, and enhance adaptation through proximal processes. This typology highlights several problems, however, with prior empirical research, which may explain, in part, why so few GE interactions have actually been observed. These problems include inattention to the dynamic nature of social experience, the manifold, often-intercorrelated dimensions of social context ("EE interactions"), mediators that link social context and the genotype, and analytic models that examine GE interactions as processes that characterize individual development. In turn, these insights call for the integration of life course sociology and behavioral genetics to foster ways of studying genes, context, and aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue numberSPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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