Drafting Epigenetics

20 Jul , 2015  


Part I: Intro and background information

Nature versus nurture, a disagreement about the relative importance of biology (“nature”) and the social environment (“nurture”) in influencing human behavior. There are two very different positions that have been engaged during this debate. One of them is the biological determinism which, contends that biology, specifically our genetic makeup, almost completely shapes the human behavior, and the other factor is the social determinism which, contends that culture and the social environment almost completely shape human behavior. Humans are the highly malleable product of the social learning that occurs during socialization (Croteau 150). For more background, this is an article that uses helpful metaphors to understand epigenetics.



Take for example, Chris Langan, the smartest man you’ve never heard of. Chris has an IQ of over 195, nearly 100 points higher than the average American. Many would assume Chris would become a successful doctor, astronaut, or neurosurgeon but that was not the case. Chris was born in poverty and was not given the same opportunities as a child from an average middle class family. If success was based solely off of genetic material, he would have received a full ride to the college of his choice and he’d be successful. Since Chris’s family’s socio-economic status was poor, he was picked on and discriminated against growing up. He wasn’t given the same options or chances as that a middle class student and he definitely wasn’t given the same chances as a student from the upper class. He’s battled through many obstacles and is well known for his work on the “Cognitive-Theoretical Model of the Universe” (Nature versus Nurture). Chris could have very easily given up and let his socio-economic class determine his success but he decided to fight back. It’s because of nature (his high IQ) and because of nurture (how/where he was raised) that he’s battled and made something of himself.


Part II: Biological Factors of Epigenetics

Our book talks about epigenetics as the study of fluctuations in gene expression, some that can be passed off to our offspring; that are formed without altering the original genetic code. Genes signify the possibility of certain traits. However how that trait is shaped depends on physical and social environment that the person belongs to and their geographic location. One of the examples that was given to us in the book was about the similarity of genes when it came to height. If a particular child is born in a wealthy household and has a decent nutritional diet, versus a child who is born into poverty and does not have the same opportunity for a decent diet, it is likely that the child born into poverty is more likely to be shorter when he/she grows up.  Just as physical factors contribute to the forming of certain genes so does social factors. The readings discussed how a certain social environment helps form certain traits. The example given was that of how childhood abuse can to lead to antisocial behavior as an adult. For example, for young boys who carry both the gene and have been a victim of abuse, are more likely to becoming antisocial as men. In comparison, young boys who do not have the gene but have suffered from abuse and boys who have the gene but have not been a victim of abuse are less likely to grow up and be antisocial men. However much of this can be resolved. Studies show that although negative social factors can be overcome with a helpful social environment. Similarly, physical factors can trigger certain traits, but they can also limit them their impact. Biology helps provide us with outlets to better construct ourselves and who we are.



Part III:  Abstract Epigenetics

In addition to the study of hereditary consequences of lifestyle choices, the field of epigenetics has expanded to research the intergenerational effects of major societal events. Particularly in regards to traumatic or volatile changes, recent studies have shown a connection between an individual’s altered mental state and their predecessors’ experiences.

In her study of epigenetic changes within the Jewish community, trauma specialist Rachel Yehuda determined that adult descendants of holocaust survivors suffer from altered levels of stress hormones compared to others of the same age (Yehuda 6). Children of the holocaust generation also complain of heightened levels of anxiety and depression, despite their self-described comfortable living situations.

Biological epigenetic changes are designed to prepare a child’s body for their parent’s extreme environment (in this case, a baby would be more adept to stabilize themselves during periods of starvation). However, sociological pressures seemed to have overpowered the body’s defensive response, actually making the child less able to adapt. In this way, traumatic or stressful life events experienced by one’s parents could potentially be just as impactful on his or her genes as inherited physical traits like disease susceptibility and hair color.


Part IV: Survey Analysis

To back up some of our conclusions and ideas on epigenetics, we decided to create a survey with some questions regarding epigenetics. The first question was about tattoos. Of the 7 people that completed the survey, five families had no tattoos in any generation at all, one individual had many tattoos and their grandpa had one tattoo, and one individual was the first in his or her family to have a tattoo. Since the survey was taken by only a few individuals, it’s not valid to generalize the data to all people, but there are trends of tattoos being a generational trait as well as a trend that tattoos are becoming more popular in the younger generation.

The second question was “would you say your family has similar socialization characteristics?” 85% of the individuals surveyed replied yes. The third question was “does a grandparent have a disease that your parents or you also have, that you’re at a higher risk of having?” And again 85% of the individuals surveyed answered yes. This shows the biological heredity that some diseases have regardless of environment raised in. The final question was “overall, does your family share many similar character traits and interests?” 85% replied yes. One individual replied that he or she felt that their family did not share many similar character traits and their family did not share similar socialization characteristics. Overall, the majority of the people surveyed had similar traits, diseases, and socialization characteristics throughout generations of their families.


Fireworks added to catch people’s attention that are probably just scrolling through all these words…If you would like to complete the survey to add to our data that would be very helpful! Here’s the link (it’s only 4 short questions)



Part V: Conclusion

In progress

Works Cited

Nature versus Nurture: Introduction to Sociology. Web. 18 July 2015.



5 Responses

  1. tiffanyt says:

    Oh my gosh, Elle. “Fireworks added to catch people’s attention that are probably just scrolling through all these words…” that’s exactly what happened to me because I like to scroll down to see how long papers are before I read them. I think it was an ingenious idea to include your own survey (yes, I filled out your survey already). I really like how you guys formatted/organized your paper like a lab report. Overall, what you have so far is very impressive.

  2. Christian Nunez says:

    Being a biology major, I enjoyed reading your paper. Epigenetics is an interesting topic to me and I enjoyed getting more insight on the topic. Good paper, keep it up.

  3. Some thoughts:

    1. I’m not sure I understand the point of the Chris Langham example. Is the implication that he was able to overcome social hurdles because of biology? But isn’t IQ partially social–not biological? I just didn’t follow there, which seems important given that it’s your opening example. I suspect you may have come across this case due to the popularized version by Malcolm Gladwell, which in turn was related to sociologist Annette Laureau’s work (discussed in our text). If so, he’s using it for a very different purpose there. You might want to revisit and clarify.
    2. Not sure how the second part connects to the first…or how it goes beyond just summarizing what’s already in the book.
    3. “Abstract Epigenetics”? I’ve not come across that term before and don’t know what it means. I assume other readers won’t either and you should explain it.
    4. Not sure I understand the purpose of the attempted survey. You do research when you have a question you want to try to answer. Here, you seem to suggest you’re looking to support a conclusion you’ve already reache. (“To back up some of our conclusions and ideas on epigenetics, we decided to create a survey…”). nd it’s not really clear to me what these “conclusions” are. Sadly, I’d encourage you to drop this. I’m afraid it isn’t well thought out, executed, or integrated into the project.
    5. I don’t see an overarching, unifying theme here. Still a series of fragments that individually are not strong and that don’t really hang together, either.
    6. Opening sentence is a fragment and a few other issues elsewhere to be cleaned up.

    I’m worried about this project. This really needs some significant revision and reworking.

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