MPRG Biosocial | Biology, Social Disparities, and Development

Human development unfolds in transactions between biology, such as genetics, and social environments. The Max Planck Research Group “Biosocial” examines how social disparities affect child and adolescent development to shape differential outcomes of education, health, and well-being across the lifespan.

Systems of social inequality, such as classism, sexism, and racism, impose hierarchies on differences between people that result in systematically unequal challenges and opportunities across key social and demographic categories. Children raised in families that are socially disadvantaged have an increased risk of experiencing early life adversity, such as deprivation and threat. Biosocial research provides an important avenue of inquiry for understanding how the social environment intersects with biological processes to shape differential outcomes of education, health, and well-being across the lifespan. Gene-environment interplay can be seen as the primary mechanism by which social inequality affects child and adolescent development, reproducing inequality over generations.

The Max Planck Research Group “Biosocial – Biology, Social Disparities, and Development” is motivated by four broad questions:

  1. How do childhood experiences tied to social disparities get under the skin to shape the course of health and education inequalities across the life span?
  2. What are the behavioral cascades through which genetic differences between children get out of the skin?
  3. How does parenting affect child health and educational performance, controlling for genetic inheritance?
  4. How do systems of social inequality impose constraints on the phenotypic expression of genetic differences between people?

We leverage recent genomic innovations, including polygenic and epigenetic methods, in longitudinal cohorts and randomized trials to advance our understanding of the intergenerational transmission of social inequality. The goal of this research is to reduce the effects of social inequality on child and adolescent well-being by identifying environmental factors that promote more equitable outcomes. Our research commenced in May 2022.

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