In the last year, APA has launched several components of a broad initiative, "Genetics in Psychology," to inform psychologists about genetics research methods and opportunities, potential clinical challenges and the ethical context of genetics. The efforts, recommended last year by the APA Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) working group on genetics research, span research, education and clinical practice, says working group chair John Hewitt, PhD, of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"The working group and its recommendations are important because the rapid advancements in genetics have major implications for the study and practice of psychology, including diagnosis, treatment and our scientific understanding of behavior," says Hewitt. "These implications were set out in Jonathan Flint's eloquent introduction to the Genetics in Psychology Web site."

Psychology research also adds layers of complexity to what's understood about genetics; the two cannot be complete without each other, Hewitt adds.

Implementation under way

Several of the working group's recommendations have already been implemented by APA's Science Directorate:

  • The Genetics in Psychology Web site, created to increase genetic literacy among psychologists, promote awareness of genetic issues and publicize research opportunities. The site, launched in June 2003, includes information on how genetics relates to psychology, where psychologists can go for genetics training and resources on ethical considerations and professional organizations.

  • The Institute of Behavioral Genetics workshop, supported by BSA and funded by the National Institutes of Health. The annual workshop, scheduled for March, will train psychologists in genetically based research techniques, such as twin and family studies.

  • A plenary symposium on Genetics in Psychology at the 2004 APA Annual Convention in Honolulu July 28-Aug. 1. Hewitt says plans for the symposium are being discussed. He hopes that leaders in the field of behavioral genetics will be available so that genetics concepts are disseminated to a broad audience.

  • Advanced Training Institutes on methodology of genetics studies of twins and families, and bioinformatics, starting this summer.

Keeping up with scientific advances

The genetics working group, which first submitted its recommendations to BSA in November 2002 and had them endorsed at a BSA meeting in March 2003, intends to keep an eye on emerging issues in the field of behavioral science research by identifying and assessing trends and suggesting new and better ways to conduct research.

"BSA spends its time thinking about research," says psychologist Merry Bullock, PhD, associate executive director of APA's Science Directorate. "We've looked around the landscape of research, we're working on the topics that interest our members, like genetics research, and we're coming up with really exciting products to fill research needs."

Longer-term goals recommended by the working group include genetics training at all levels of psychological education, specific courses in genetics for undergraduate and graduate psychology students, and a review of APA accreditation requirements to make sure genetic coursework is being included in curricula.

Further Reading

For more information on genetics in psychology and the working group, see the APA Genetics in Psychology Web site at APA Genetics.