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Epigenetics

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The coverage of epigenetics in Intro Psych textbooks appears to be slowly on the rise. And with good reason. If you're not familiar with epigenetics, this 9-minute student-friendly video is a nice introduction

Video Link : 1576

For a more scholarly introduction to epigenetics, this 2016 article from Child Development will get you up to speed.

In Intro Psych, your textbook may give an overview of the topic wherever it covers genetics and revisit epigenetics again during coverage of psychology disorders. Research is stacking up. Our experiences influence the turning on and off of genes that are linked to psychological disorders. For example, "Exposure to stressful or traumatic life events, especially early in life (early life stress (ELS)), is one of the strongest risk factors for a number of psychiatric disorders, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over the past decade, an ever growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to stressful life events can lead to long lasting changes in a number of systems including the endocrine system, the immune system and brain structure and function" (Provencal & Binder, 2015).

If a cause of psychological disorders is related to epigenetics, the effectiveness of treatments may also reside in epigenetics. Electroconvulsive therapy, for example, may alter epigenetic tags (Jong, et.al., 2014). Psychiatric drugs may also work this way (Boks, et.al., 2012).

For Intro Psych, the specifics of epigenetics is probably not that important, but a broad overview and the implications of the research are certainly worth the time.

References

Boks, M. P., de Jong, N. M., Kas, M. J. H., Vinkers, C. H., Fernandes, C., Kahn, R. S., … Ophoff, R. A. (2012). Current status and future prospects for epigenetic psychopharmacology. Epigenetics, 7(1), 20–28. http://doi.org/10.4161/epi.7.1.18688

Jong, J. O., Arts, B., Boks, M. P., Sienaert, P., Hove, D. L., Kenis, G., . . . Rutten, B. P. (2014). Epigenetic effects of electroconvulsive seizures. The Journal of ECT, 30(2), 152-159. doi:10.1097/yct.0000000000000141 

Lester, B. M., Conradt, E. and Marsit, C. (2016), Introduction to the Special Section on Epigenetics. Child Development, 87: 29–37. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12489

Provencal, N., & Binder, E. B. (2015). The neurobiological effects of stress as contributors to psychiatric disorders: Focus on epigenetics. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 30, 31-37. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.007 

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.