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Scientists regularly make use of genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which isolate genes linked to certain outcomes. For physical traits such as height and BMI (body mass index), the connection is relatively straightforward. When it comes to human behaviour, such as having children or succeeding in education, it can be more difficult to determine the influence of genes compared to other external factors. The new research, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, has found that the genes associated with different outcomes, such as education and fertility, differ over time and from place to place - perhaps because the social context for education and childbearing can vary so much in different times and cultures.
GWAS studies often combine genetic data from individuals from different countries and historical time periods in order to gain a large enough sample size. By doing this they assume that the influence of genes on individuals is universal across time and place, but the new findings show that this is not the case.