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Approved Research

A catalogue of 'missing environmental influences'

Principal Investigator: Dr Felix Tropf
Approved Research ID: 58285
Approval date: January 11th 2021

Lay summary

All studied human traits are partly genetic and partly environmentally influenced. While

geneticists have gone to great lengths to find genes that predict human traits, social science has yet to catch up and consider the involvement of genes towards explaining aspects of the human condition. How well do we explain and predict health, education, fertility or mortality based on knowledge about someone's behaviour (social) environment? How well do we explain and predict human behaviour based on our theories? How much of the social relationships we observe may actually be influenced by genetic causes?

In order to evaluate currently ongoing, costly large-scale data collections and research initiatives, we need a robust assessment to evaluate our reasoning about the social world, the quality of our policy recommendations, and timeless debates about nature versus nurture. The UKBiobank provides us with the unique opportunity to analyse amazingly rich information, whilst considering the interactions among genes and the environment. Central questions that we aim to answer are therefore: To what extent does the (social) environment explain and predict our behaviour or health? How well are we doing in collecting the right data? Do we need more advanced social theories, or do we need to do a better job at collecting data to improve our findings?

In this project, we will, over the course of 36 months, isolate environmental influences from genetic influences to quantify the importance of environmental factors that contribute to various health, status and demographic characteristics of individuals. Furthermore, we aim to evaluate whether future research requires more advanced thinking or more data when it comes to explaining or understanding human conditions. Results may question the stability of our current social science explanations, and highlight the need for complexity in our reasoning about the (social) world. Finally, we approach the complex interplay between genes and the environment and issues of genetic selection in order to approve substantial and statistical knowledge for general knowledge and future research directions.