William James Fellow Award 2004
King's College London
Robert Plomin is a pioneer in bringing nature and nurture together in the study of development. His research during the past three decades has shown the importance of genetics throughout psychology. However, his major contributions have gone beyond heritability — that is, beyond merely demonstrating the importance of genetic influence — to understand the interface between nature and nurture in development.
For example, by studying environmental influences in genetically sensitive designs, Plomin has made two of the most important discoveries in behavioral genetics, both of which involve nurture rather than nature. First, he has shown the importance of non-shared environment, a term that he coined to refer to the environmental reasons why children growing up in the same family are so different. Second, he has shown that many environmental measures in psychology show genetic influence and that genetic factors can mediate associations between environmental measures and developmental outcomes.
In addition, his research, all of which has been longitudinal, has highlighted the usefulness of genetic research for understanding change as well as continuity in development. During the past decade, Plomin has been influential in harnessing the power of molecular genetics for psychology.
More generally, Robert Plomin's research and writing have brought genetics into the mainstream of psychology. Rather than continuing the debate about nature versus nature, he has always insisted that the appropriate phase is nature and nurture. Through his textbook on behavioral genetics, his many review papers, and his collaborations with some of the top psychologists, he has helped to give genetics away to psychology.