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Am J Public Health. 2013 Oct;103 Suppl 1:S42-5. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301290. Epub 2013 Aug 8.

The challenge of causal inference in gene-environment interaction research: leveraging research designs from the social sciences.

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At the time of this study, Jason M. Fletcher was with the Department of Health Policy and Management, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, Columbia University, New York, NY. Dalton Conley was with the Department of Sociology, the School of Medicine, and the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University, New York.


The integration of genetics and the social sciences will lead to a more complex understanding of the articulation between social and biological processes, although the empirical difficulties inherent in this integration are large. One key challenge is the implications of moving "outside the lab" and away from the experimental tools available for research with model organisms. Social science research methods used to examine human behavior in nonexperimental, real-world settings to date have not been fully taken advantage of during this disciplinary integration, especially in the form of gene-environment interaction research. This article outlines and provides examples of several prominent research designs that should be used in gene-environment research and highlights a key benefit to geneticists of working with social scientists.

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