"We examined whether the genes of your peer groups influenced your height, weight or educational attainment. We didn't find a correlation to height or weight, but did find a small one with how far you go in school," says Ben Domingue, assistant professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education and first author of the study.
The paper was published online on January 9 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The link can be explained by what researchers call social genetic effects, when the health or behavior of one individual is affected by the genes of another. The effect shows up, recent research on mice has found, with roommates, as well, said a statement from Stanford University.
The genetic influence of schoolmates may manifest itself through traits or characteristics that then influence your behavior, says researchers. Say, for example, that your friend stays up late because of a genetic disposition to burn the midnight oil. That behavior may cause you to stay up late too, impacting your educational attainment, which researchers define as the amount of formal schooling completed.
"Unlike height, educational attainment is socially contextualized. There is more going on than genetics," says Kathleen Mullan Harris, senior author and distinguished professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Our results imply that scientific investigations into either genetic and social effects need to account for the other."
The research is based on data from 5,500 adolescents in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a large, nationally representative National Institutes of Health study directed by Harris at UNC.
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