Is a love of nature in your genes?

3rd November 2021 – By Aaruthy Suthahar

Identical twins are consistently more similar to each other in their concern for nature, environmental movement activism, and personal conservation behaviour than non-identical twins, suggesting there are genetic influences on these traits.  

The study, led by a team from the University of Singapore, found that all three characteristics were somewhat heritable, and the genetic correlations were high among them.  

This highlights that the genetic foundation of concern for nature, protecting the environment, and conservation behaviour partially overlap. The genetic correlations amongst the traits could help explain why people who show more concern for nature generally make pro-environmental decisions. 

Although results from the study revealed that genetic effects can have a contribution to sustainable behaviours, the researchers explain in their paper that external factors such as education and making conservation behaviours more convenient remain key to encouraging more people towards sustainability.  

The researchers used data from the TwinsUK cohort to look at the external and genetic influences that drive individual differences via an online survey on concern for nature, environments, and personal conservation behaviours. They analysed responses from 1,165 twin pairs who participated in the study. The survey results of identical twins were then compared with those of non-identical, who share fewer genes. 

One limitation of the study however is that it only surveyed TwinsUK members and at one time-point. Our understanding of a person’s evolving concern for nature and pro-environmental behaviour can be improved by conducting long-term repeated measurements (e.g., looking from child to adult stage of life). Future research studies could therefore carry out repeated measures with a more diverse group of participants to address this. 

As the earth is undergoing an environmental crisis due to the negative impacts made on nature by humans, several policies have been proposed in an attempt towards a more sustainable future. The researchers highlighted in their paper that such recommendations have often been disregarded, due to the lack of public support and concern about the crisis. Therefore, a better understanding of people’s support or lack thereof for pro-environmental policies is essential if we want to achieve environmental sustainability. 

Chang et el. 2021. Genetic Contribution to Concern for Nature and Proenvironmental Behavior. BioScience 

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