Using Variation in Heritability Estimates as a Test of G × E in Behavioral Research: A Brief Research Note

  • Kasey D. Fowler-FinnEmail author
  • Brian Boutwell
Brief Communication


Better characterization of the sources of phenotypic variation in human behavioural traits—stemming from genetic and environmental influences—will allow for more informed decisions about how to approach a range of challenges arising from variation, ranging from societal issues to the treatment of diseases. In particular, understanding how the environment moderates genetic influence on phenotypes (i.e., genotype–environment interactions, or G × E) is a central component of the behavioral sciences. Yet, understanding of this phenomenon is lagging somewhat, due in part to the difficulties of detecting G × E. We discuss the logic behind one of the primary ways to detect G × E: comparing heritability estimates across environments. Then, we highlight some pitfalls, with an emphasis on how very strong G × E can sometimes be undetectable using this method when high heritability is present in multiple environments. We conclude by forwarding some initial, yet tentative, suggestions for how best to address to the problem.


Gene by environment interaction Heritability Quantitative genetics Behavioral genetics 



A Spark Microgrant from Saint Louis University provided funding for this project. Feedback on earlier drafts of this manuscript (however, any errors and omissions are the product solely of the authors): RL Rodriguez, R Tinghitella, and A Burt.


This project was funded by a SPARK microgrant from Saint Louis University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Kasey D. Fowler-Finn and Brian B. Boutwell declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Statement of human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

For this type of study formal consent is not required.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologySaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA
  2. 2.Criminology and Criminal JusticeSaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics (Secondary Appointment), College for Public Health & Social JusticeSaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA
  4. 4.Department of Family & Community Medicine (Secondary Appointment), School of MedicineSaint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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