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Regular version of the site

Behavioural Genetics Research as a Path to Optimise Learning for All

On October 5th, 2015 Yulia Kovas will give an open lecture at the HSE Centre for Cognition & Decision Making — 'An Introduction to Behavioral Genetics'. Professor of Genetics and Psychology at Goldsmiths College, London University and Co-director of the Russian British Laboratory of Psychogenetics and author of many academic articles, Yulia Kovas will talk about the problems facing contemporary behavioral genetics, how DNA influences the individual variations of a person’s psychological features, what role the interaction between genes and the environment plays in the formation of behaviour and other questions of contemporary behavioral genetics. The lecture is part of the introduction to the course 'Behavioral Genetics and Neurogenetics' and will be in English. Ahead of the lecture Professor Kovas answered questions about her work from the News Editor Anna Chernyakhovskaya.  

— Could you please introduce the main goals and achievements of the Russian-British Behavioural Genetics Laboratory where you are a co-director?

— I direct and co-direct several research laboratories and centres, with the main aim to gain further insights into the origins of individual differences in educationally relevant traits, such as cognitive abilities, motivational and emotional characteristics and academic achievement. The ultimate goal of this research is to help to optimise education for all learners.

— Have you been cooperating with the HSE researchers already? If yes, on what in particular?

— Our collaboration with HSE has been at the level of exchanging ideas and project plans. In particular, we have been discussing with Igor Utochkin and his team issues related to basic numerical estimation abilities — one of the suggested foundational skills for mathematical learning. There are however many potential projects on which my research teams and HSE can collaborate and I hope for the development of the collaborations.

— It's a great pleasure to have you with an open lecture in Moscow. You are going to talk about behavioral genomic analysis. What is the big ethical issue in this aspect?

— As we live in the era of rapidly growing genomic knowledge, one of the most serious ethical concerns that societies face is not being able to understand and use genetic information beneficially for all people.  In my talk and in the course on Behavioural genetics that I will teach this autumn I will raise many issues that need to be addressed at the societal level. I am also very pleased that my collaborator, Fatos Selita — a lawyer with specific interest and expertise in ethical, legal and societal implications of genetic research in child development and education — will contribute to these sessions.

— If you were asked to explain the core goal of your research to your grandmother, how would you do it?

— I seek knowledge on why people differ in their ability to learn and in their appetite for learning. I hope that once we understand the sources of these differences (at the genetic, brain, mind and behaviour levels), we will be able to teach and learn much better, personalising education in the same way we will personalise medicine.

— How do you see the future of behavioural genetics?

— I see a significant progress from the state of profound ignorance to the state of significant insights.

— Are you planning to discuss any other cooperation with the HSE during your visit?

— I am always open for collaboration.  I think that cooperative interdisciplinary science is a powerful tool that we should use to make faster progress.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service