Our Genes, Our Choices: How genotype and gene interactions affect behavior

Our Genes, Our Choices: How genotype and gene interactions affect behavior

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by David Goldman

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Our Genes, Our Choices: How Genotype and Gene Interactions Affect Behavior — First Prize winner of the 2013 BMA Medical Book Award for Basic and Clinical Sciences — explains how the complexity of human behavior, including concepts of free will, derives from a relatively small number of genes, which direct neurodevelopmental sequence. Are people

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Our Genes, Our Choices: How Genotype and Gene Interactions Affect Behavior — First Prize winner of the 2013 BMA Medical Book Award for Basic and Clinical Sciences — explains how the complexity of human behavior, including concepts of free will, derives from a relatively small number of genes, which direct neurodevelopmental sequence. Are people free to make choices, or do genes determine behavior? Paradoxically, the answer to both questions is "yes," because of neurogenetic individuality, a new theory with profound implications.

Author David Goldman uses judicial, political, medical, and ethical examples to illustrate that this lifelong process is guided by individual genotype, molecular and physiologic principles, as well as by randomness and environmental exposures, a combination of factors that we choose and do not choose.

Written in an authoritative yet accessible style, the book includes practical descriptions of the function of DNA, discusses the scientific and historical bases of genethics, and introduces topics of epigenetics and the predictive power of behavioral genetics.

  • First Prize winner of the 2013 BMA Medical Book Award for Basic and Clinical Sciences
  • Poses and resolves challenges to moral responsibility raised by modern genetics and neuroscience
  • Analyzes the neurogenetic origins of human behavior and free will
  • Written by one of the world's most influential neurogeneticists, founder of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the National Institutes of Health

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

    In a bold, new integrative treatment of the confusing facts and fictions about human behavior and genetic determinism, David Goldman has provided a user-friendly death to determinism and a rebirth of genetic probabilism. He uses his breadth and depth of neuroscience experience to optimize the necessary reductionism for understanding violence, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, and personality variations while explaining the newest technologies of the researcher with access to the laboratories of the National Institute of Health and his colleagues.

    He bravely confronts the numerous ethical dilemmas that arise when dealing with new knowledge about our genetic makeup and their implications for good and evil.

    Drawing on his personal exposure to mental disease in his own family, his sensitive and energized writing reminds me of Sylvia Nasar’s explication of "A Beautiful Mind", now giving us a beautiful genome from a self-described "behavioral genomicist." We are treated to an insider’s knowledge about the work and hoopla about a gay gene and what may be a better conceptualization closer to the facts.

    Freed from the constraints of journal writing with its 3 to 6 page shackles, Goldman tackles the utility of race as a construct without racism, communist ideology in science, insurance discrimination against the mentally ill, free will, and even pedophilia.

    His work provides essential reading across the humanities, social and medical sciences, and the courtroom. As fascinating as any whodunit, he tries to account for the origins of our behavioral outcomes, for good or for evil or for mental anguish -was it genes, was it environment or culture, or bad luck, or a conspiracy among some subset of culprits? I won’t give it away -read the book.

    Irving I. Gottesman Ph.D., Hon.FRCPsych, Bernstein Professor in Adult Psychiatry & Senior Fellow, Department of Psychology University of Minnesota & Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology Emeritus, University of Virginia


    Our Genes, Our Choices grows out of a National Public Radio series led by its author. It makes a compelling case for the relevance of genetics to many vexing social problems that we face today, including murder and addiction. This intriguing book reflects the unique vision of David Goldman, M.D., Director of the Neurogenetics Laboratory of the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. As is evident in the book, Dr. Goldman brings a keen intellect, critical thinking, entertaining sense of humor, and a remarkable breadth of culturalreferents. This book brings ones into the real world challenges of molecular genetics, the technologies, the administrative and ethical challenges, and the startling and rapid progress. It highlight real opportunities to shed light on a wide range of maladaptive behaviors, but it also highlights the many technical and conceptual challenges that currently limit the impact of the advances in psychiatric genetics that have been made to this point. Following the path laid out in this book, one wrestles with many fundamental questions of life. For example, if so much of our behavior is an expression of genetic predispositions expressed as we react to environmental stimuli, how can we really be said to have free will? If we do not have free will, how can we be culpable for our behavior? Does being predisposed to murder absolve one from criminal responsibility or point toward longer prison sentences due to increased risk for repeating this behavior? Goldman provides guidance that is both wise, cautious, and entertaining in wrestling with these and other thorny issues. Our Genes, Our Choices is an engaging and important book as we seek to understand the broad implications of recent advances in genetics for society.

    John H. Krystal, M.D., Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine


    Goldman’s is pure gold in this endearing and informative blend of personal insights and polished professionalism that reflects on the basic nature of human genetics and individuality. Goldman literally lives and breaths his research. His passion for the topic comes through with good humor while providing a didactic romp through the complexities of both our genetics and our brains. Entertaining and informative for the expert and hobbiest alike, this is a must read for those who enjoy contemplating unanswerable questions such as what makes the human brain so unique and how behavior and cognition are controlled, or not as the case may be.

    At a time when anti-intellectualism is at its height, Goldman demonstrates a clear command of his material nicely interwoven with every man stories and clever literary references. There is truly something for everyone here.

    Makes the case that understanding ourselves is our greatest hope of surviving ourselves, (i.e. we cannot evolve fast enough to meet the rate of exponential challenge growth)

    Despite it being self-evidently obvious to most of us, Goldman is willing to articulate that testosterone is actualy a contributing factor to behavioral expression, particularly those that involve aberrant impulsivity such as aggression, murder, suicide. But he also does not loose sight of the importance of context, environment, experience, culture, pointing out that the predictive value of each is slight, but nonetheless there is genuine predictive value. If we have a modest predictor of cancer risk its on the front page of the New York Times, but people are much more squeamish about predictors of human behavior and Goldman helps reduce the aversion with his balanced, nuanced and yet accessible presentation. He further exploits his refined analyses to reexamine the panorama of mental health disorders and weave into their description and interpretation a discussion of how impulse control and disorders thereof are a common component of multiple diseases. This serves two purposes, it reminds us that there is a thin line between normal and so-called aberrant thinking and behavior, and that many mental health disorders have common underlying phenotypes or are in fact many diseases with one name.

    Additional gems include Goldmans discussion of his own experiences in the legal system and why the issue of genetic control of behavior (read criminality) is a real and tangible one that can change the course of lives today, as opposed to some imagined science fiction future. He reminds us of eugenics and the harm done in the past, but alerts us to the current risks, and benefits, including genetic studies and what they do and do not buy us. A valuable review of the current technology used to study your genes and use them for good or evil, assures the reader is fully informed and no portion of the science is left under the mantle of "magic" or too complicated for the simple lay person to understand.

    He leaves no subject untouched, tackling gun control, shoe fetishes and sex addiction alike, even epigenetics, the newest of the new in the study of genetic control of behavior are subjects for which Goldman is well versed and nicely capable of conveying to the reader.

    Margaret McCarthy Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Physiology, Psychiatry and Program in Neuroscience, University of Maryland School of Medicine

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    Product Details

    Elsevier Science
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    NOOK Book
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    3 MB

    Meet the Author

    David Goldman Dr. Goldman received his B.S. from Yale University in 1974. He received his M.D. degree in 1978 and completed residency training in psychiatry in 1979, both at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Dr. Goldman joined the NIAAA in 1979 and has been chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics since 1991. Throughout his career, Dr. Goldman has focused on the identification of genetic factors responsible for inherited differences in behavior. His laboratory is currently exploring the genetics of alcoholism, substance abuse, and related health problems.

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