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Can epigenetics shape attitudes?

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From Jewish World Review:

Jewish guilt’ may be inherited

“We certainly know that human experiences affect how our genes are expressed,” says Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who has performed epigenetic studies on Holocaust survivors. “But we don’t know for sure how this process works and how strong a contributor epigenetics really is compared to other things like genes.”

Life experience capable of shaping perceptions and reactions even without touching DNA. In studies published over the past decade, Yehuda has found that children of Holocaust survivors have altered stress response systems and differences in methylation on the gene that regulates the number of stress hormone receptors. She also found that these alterations were complex and dependent on a mother’s age when she went through the Holocaust and whether a father experienced it, too.

“Do uniquely Jewish experiences from the past — like the pogroms our great-grandparents escaped — affect the way we behave today? I think that’s a valid question,” Szyf says.

‘Do uniquely Jewish experiences from the past — like the pogroms our great-grandparents escaped — affect the way we behave today?’

“Jews that left Europe were highly self-selected for their survival skills and perseverance,” he adds, which might have been due to their genetic tendencies rather than epigenetic changes. More.

One views this sort of discussion with a generous dash of nervousness oneself. Epigenetics won’t do much good if it simply reintroduces the eugenic and other stereotyping by the back door that we kicked out the front door some decades ago.

Yet one senses that that’s not the author’s intention at all. He really wants to understand something he has noticed.

Incidentally, a relative of mine (O’Leary for News) worked for many years at a mental hospital in a catchment area in which a large number of Jewish people lived. It was noted that the children of Holocaust survivors seemed fairly nervous. But most medics put it down to genuine uncertainty for their safety.

Just because they had little to fear in urban Canada in those days didn’t mean they wouldn’t be nervous. People can’t read minds, and they may not have realized that their neighbours at the time didn’t really have anything in particular against them.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Well, as long as the discussion is actually helping someone …

See also: Is epigenetics Lamarckian? And is it ID?

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