Irving I. Gottesman

University of Minnesota
James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award

Irving I. Gottesman is known internationally for his work in the field of behavioral and psychiatric genetics. His research has focused on the many ways that genetic factors interact with and augment environmental influences that lead to endophenotypes for psychopathology. In 1966, at the University of Minnesota, Gottesman created the United States’ first academic program on human behavioral genetics.

His pioneering focus drew burgeoning attention to — and funding for — cross-disciplinary approaches to psychological science. Gottesman became interested in genetics in the mid-1950s, straying from the Freudian zeitgeist that then dominated behavioral research. His first extensive study of the genetics of schizophrenia followed British patients in the Maudsley-Bethlem hospital’s registery of twin admissions. By comparing sets of identical twins, who share the same genetic profile, with fraternal twins, whose genes differ, he confirmed that genes were an undeniable factor in predisposition for schizophrenia.

Gottesman’s research with imprisoned twins in Denmark provided evidence supporting a role for genetic influences on severe criminal behavior. But he has emphasized that environment also strongly influenced those behavioral patterns. And he has found that genetic heritability on IQ variance rises among children with higher socioeconomic status (SES), but drops among low SES children, again using the twin method. He concluded from this that genes have a weaker influence on individual differences in IQ than poverty. Gottesman has also researched and written about the abuses of genetic research in Nazi Germany, and he served as an expert witness in a Chinese human rights case over a law that allowed citizens to be denied employment for having a parent with schizophrenia. He has truly embraced humanistic views in his role as a scientist.